Friday, April 29, 2016

A Front Page Affair (Kitty Weeks Mystery #1) by Radha Vasal: A Book Review

A Front Page Affair (Kitty Weeks Mystery #1)
Author: Radha Vasal
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Release Date: May 3, 2016
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: New York City, 1915

     The Lusitania has just been sunk, and headlines about a shooting at J.P. Morgan's mansion and the Great War are splashed across the front page of every newspaper. Capability "Kitty" Weeks would love nothing more than to report on the news of the day, but she's stuck writing about fashion and society gossip over on the Ladies' Page—until a man is murdered at a high society picnic on her beat.

     Determined to prove her worth as a journalist, Kitty finds herself plunged into the midst of a wartime conspiracy that threatens to derail the United States' attempt to remain neutral—and to disrupt the privileged life she has always known.

     Radha Vatsal's A Front Page Affair is the first book in highly anticipated series featuring rising journalism star Kitty Weeks.

     My Review: Kitty is a journalist for the “Ladies’ Page” for The Sentinel newspaper. However, she wishes that she could write about other topics other than writing about ladies topics. One day, when she finds a man is murdered at a high society picnic, she realizes that this may be her opportunity to make her dreams come true. Because she has attended the event, the editor of The Sentinel wishes that she provides background information regarding the murder. As she investigates, she realizes that this murder mystery may be connected to a wartime conspiracy that may threaten the U.S’s attempt to stay neutral.

     The thing that I really like about Kitty is how she has grown and matured in this book. At first, she is naive and idealistic. She is ambitious and she wants to impress the editor of The Sentinel with her talents. However, she realizes that as a woman that she must exclusively stick to women’s topics, for it is unseemly for a woman to write about current events. As she investigates the case, she is very observant and inquisitive. She is also a very tough character. She has a temper, but she is determined, bold, and can stand up for herself. As she progresses in the novel, she finds that she must make hard choices. She realizes that there is a limit to her ambitions and has to ponder how far she will go to pursue her dreams. As she continues her investigation, she learns about women’s accomplishments and appreciates their achievements.

     Overall, this book is about family, loyalty, dreams, and choices. It is about a woman who wants to rise above her role in an era that limits the opportunities of women. This book is also about how far a person who go to fulfill their dreams. The message of this book is that even though a door closes, another opens. I found the characters to be very likable, and I loved that it is set during WWI. While it is easy to figure out who the killer is early on in the novel, I found the motive more hard to figure out. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this novel, and I am looking forward to her next novel in this series. I recommend this book to anyone who loves female sleuths or mysteries from the early 20th century.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Death Along the River Fleet (Lucy Campion Mysteries #4) by Susanna Calkins

A Death Along the River Fleet (Lucy Campion Mysteries #4)
Author Susanna Calkins
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery and Suspense
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Release Date: April 12, 2016
Pages: 337
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Lucy Campion, a ladies’ maid turned printer’s apprentice in 17th-century London, is crossing Holborn Bridge over the murky waters of the River Fleet one morning when, out of the mist, she sees a specter moving toward her. Frightened at first, Lucy soon realizes the otherworldly figure is in fact a young woman, clearly distraught and clad only in a blood-spattered white nightdress. Barely able to speak, the woman has no memory of who she is or what’s happened to her. The townspeople believe she’s possessed. But Lucy is concerned for the woman’s well-being and takes her to see a physician. When, shockingly, the woman is identified as the daughter of a nobleman, Lucy is asked to temporarily give up her bookselling duties to discreetly serve as the woman’s companion while she remains under the physician’s care.

     As the woman slowly recovers, she begins—with Lucy’s help—to reconstruct the terrible events that led her to Holborn Bridge that morning. But when it becomes clear the woman’s safety might still be at risk, Lucy becomes unwillingly privy to a plot with far-reaching social implications, and she’ll have to decide just how far she’s willing to go to protect the young woman in her care.

     Susanna Calkins has drawn a richly detailed portrait of a time in history and a young woman struggling against the bounds of her society in her next absorbing Lucy Campion mystery.

     My Review: Lucy, a printer’s apprentice, is crossing Holborn Bridge one foggy morning when out of the fog there appears a wild woman that looks as if she is a ghost. Lucy is immediately frightened about what she has seen, but after she recovers she realizes that she is an injured and distraught young woman. Lucy takes her to the physician’s house, who immediately takes her in and cares for her. Soon, both Lucy and the physician have questions regarding this unknown woman. The unknown woman has no memory of who she is, where she comes from, and what has happened to her. Lucy is curious, and she embarks on a quest to find out this woman’s identity and her past. As she investigates further into the mystery, the more she realizes that there are dark secrets regarding this woman, and that there are people who are determined that the unknown woman’s identity remains anonymous.

     While Lucy has a low social status, she is comfortable in her position as a bookseller. She has a creative imagination and loves to write. She writes stories about the previous mysteries that she has solved. I found Lucy to be a likable character. She is smart and practical. She can also be caring. However, she can also be judgmental and temperamental. She is also quite a bit stubborn and impatient. She is suspicious of other people, and it is hard for her to trust others. She is also a realist, for she knows that her opportunities are limited due to her social status, and tries to plan a future based upon her happiness. I also found her to be very courageous for she is willing to take many risks in order to solve the mystery. Thus, Lucy is a very interesting character, and is a character whom readers will root for.

     Overall, this book is about friendship, choices, love, and freedom. While I did find the characters to be interesting, I found this novel to be a bit drawn out. The mystery was pretty predictable, and I wanted there to be more twists and turns to make the case be more mysterious. I also did not like there to be a love triangle in this book. I felt it to be unnecessary. I would have liked the story more had there been no romance involved, for it felt forced. Nevertheless, I did think that this novel was well-written, and it gave me vivid descriptions of 17th century London. I recommend this book to those who would like to read a historical mysteries set after the Great Fire of London and those who enjoy books about amateur sleuths.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Blog Tour: Book Spotlight of The Winemakers by Jan Moran

The Winemakers by Jan Moran
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Release Date: April 5, 2016
Pages: 368
Synopsis: 1956: When Caterina Rosetta inherits a cottage in the countryside of Italy from a grandmother she's never known, she discovers a long-buried family secret -- a secret so devastating, it threatens the future of everything her mother has worked for.

Many years before, her mother's hard-won dreams of staking her family's claim in the vineyards of California came to fruition; but as an old murder comes to light, and Caterina uncovers a tragic secret that may destroy the man she loves, she realizes her happiness will depend on revealing the truth of her mother's buried past.

From author Jan Moran comes The Winemakers, a sweeping, romantic novel that will hold you in its grasp until the last delicious sip.

Buy The Book: Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, Kobo, Chapters, Books-a-Million, Book Depository, and iBooks


About The Author:


Jan Moran is a Rizzoli bestselling and award winning author. She writes historical women's fiction for St. Martin's Press (Scent of Triumph, The Winemakers), contemporary women's fiction (Flawless, Beauty Mark, Runway), and nonfiction books (Vintage Perfumes, Fabulous Fragrances). Her stories are smart and stylish, and written with emotional depth. Jan often draws on her international travel and business experiences, infusing her books with realistic details.

The Midwest Book Review and Kirkus have recommended her books, calling her heroines strong, complex, and resourceful. She likes to talk to readers on her website and on social media. She lives in southern California and loves lattes and iced coffee, anything chocolate, and Whole Foods Double Green smoothies to balance it all out. Find her also at Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram.


Giveaway:

Prizes:
Win a $25 Amazon Gift card and Winemakers swag (USA only)




Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Blog Tour: Death Sits Down To Dinner (Lady Montfort Mystery #2) by Tessa Arlen: A Book Review

02_Death Sits Down to DinnerDeath Sits Down to Dinner (Lady Montfort Mystery #2) by Tessa Arlen

Publication Date: March 29, 2016 Minotaur Books Hardcover & Ebook; 320 Pages Genre: Historical Mystery

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Synopsis: Filled with deceptions both real and imagined, Death Sits Down to Dinner is a delightful Edwardian mystery set in London.

     Lady Montfort is thrilled to receive an invitation to a dinner party hosted by her close friend Hermione Kingsley, the patroness of England’s largest charity. Hermione has pulled together a select gathering to celebrate Winston Churchill’s 39th birthday. Some of the oldest families in the country have gathered to toast the dangerously ambitious and utterly charming First Lord of the Admiralty. But when the dinner ends, one of the gentlemen remains seated at the table, head down among the walnut shells littering the cloth and a knife between his ribs.

     Summoned from Iyntwood, Mrs. Jackson helps her mistress trace the steps of suspects both upstairs and downstairs as Hermione’s household prepares to host a highly anticipated charity event. Determined to get to the bottom of things, Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson unravel the web of secrecy surrounding the bright whirlwind of London society, investigating the rich, well-connected and seeming do-gooders in a race against time to stop the murderer from striking again.

     My Review: Death Sits Down To Dinner is a historical mystery starring Lady Montfort and her housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson. Lady Montfort is invited  to a dinner party, hosted by her friend, Hermione Kingsley, in honor of Winston Churchill’s 39th party. The party seems to be going well, and Lady Montfort is mingling with the elite and observing the young men as potential suitors for her daughter. She also gets to see the famous Winston Churchill, whom her husband dislikes. After the dinner ends, they find that someone at the party has died. Lady Montfort is determined to see who is the murderer, and she uses her housekeeper to help solve the crime.

     Both Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson are likable characters. While they are both from different social statuses, they both work towards the same goal. Therefore, they make a perfect team and they rely on each other. Mrs. Jackson is Lady Montfort’s eyes and ears with those of her social rank. As they both go about solving the crime through different social ranks, in the end this helps form a clearer picture of who the murderer is. Both of these women are smart, observant, practical, persistent, and inquisitive. Thus, they both complement each other and make for interesting sleuths.

     Overall, this book was a fun mystery. I liked how this book focused on British society. I also liked delving into their secrets. I found the characters to be fun and well-developed. This book did start out slow, and it took a hundred pages to get into, however after that it was very suspenseful, and I wanted to know who the murderer was. This book for me was also hard to read for its writing is more aligned with early twentieth century. So it took me forever to finish the book because it slowed the pace of my reading down as I was trying to make sense of what the characters were saying. Nonetheless, this is a well-developed mystery. I recommend this book to fans of Agatha Christie and Edwardian literature.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | INDIEBOUND | KOBO

 

Advance Praise


“Despite Clementine’s luxurious lifestyle, she’s got a head on her shoulders . . .and is as cagey as she is charming. A neatly crafted whodunit dripping with diamonds, titles and scandal . . .” -Kirkus Reviews

“The close, mutually respectful partnership between Clementine and Edith will remind Dorothy Sayers’s fans of the relationship between Lord Peter Wimsey and Bunter, his manservant. Arlen does a good job of depicting a period when class distinctions have become blurred by new money and more-relaxed manners. The plot, which includes a slew of red herrings, builds to a startling denouement.” -Publisher’s Weekly

“VERDICT Real-life Edwardian personalities abound in this period historical, and the upstairs/downstairs focus delivers a clash of temperaments. This title is bound to appeal to fans of historicals set in this period and of such authors as Rhys Bowen and Ashley Weaver.” -Library Journal

About the Author


02_Tessa Arlen

TESSA ARLEN, the daughter of a British diplomat, had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Cairo, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She came to the U.S. in 1980 and worked as an H.R. recruiter for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. DEATH OF A DISHONORABLE GENTLEMAN is Tessa’s first novel. She lives in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

For more information please visit Tessa Arlen's website. Read Tessa Arlen's blog at Redoubtable Edwardians. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. Subscribe to Tessa Arlen's Newsletter
  

04_Death Sits Down to Dinner_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Blog Tour: The Winemakers: A Novel of Wine and Secrets by Jan Moran: A Book Review

The Winemakers: A Novel of Wine and Secrets by Jan Moran
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
St. Martin’s Griffin
Hardcover, Paperback, eBook; 368 Pages
ISBN: 9781250091185
Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance
Source: This book was given to me by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: 1956: When Caterina Rosetta inherits a cottage in the countryside of Italy from a grandmother she’s never known, she discovers a long-buried family secret — a secret so devastating, it threatens the future of everything her mother has worked for. Many years before, her mother’s hard-won dreams of staking her family’s claim in the vineyards of California came to fruition; but as an old murder comes to light, and Caterina uncovers a tragic secret that may destroy the man she loves, she realizes her happiness will depend on revealing the truth of her mother’s buried past.

     From author Jan Moran comes The Winemakers, a sweeping, romantic novel that will hold you in its grasp until the last delicious sip.

     My Review: Caterina is a single mother who wants to start a new life with her baby daughter. When she finds out that she has inherited a house in Italy, she is surprised and realizes that her mother, with whom she has a strained relationship, has been keeping secrets from her. However, she is intrigued by this prospect and finds this opportunity to be irresistible. When she leaves to go to Italy, she finds out that her mother has kept other secrets from her as well. As she begins to find the truth in her mother’s past, she learns the difficult circumstances her mother had faced and the love her mother has for her.

     I really liked both Caterina, and her mother, Ava.  Both of them were really strong women. They were both fierce, intelligent, and determined. They each faced hardships and had to make hard choices. At first, while Caterina is mad at her mother because her mother wants to make choices for Caterina rather than letting Caterina make them herself, she soon comes to understand her. While reading this novel, I found that both of them were alike. They were both stubborn, persistent, and never gave up hope of finding their own happiness. They had a fierce love for their daughters and their need to protect them. I found them to be very fascinating characters and easy to relate with. Ava did have secrets, but she had good reasons for keeping them from her daughter.

     Overall, this story is about family, love, secrets, misunderstandings, and choices. The story is a touching mother-daughter story. I did find the story to be a bit drawn-out and predictable. I also found some of the supporting characters to be one-dimensional. However, the characters of Ava and Caterina were enough to make me stay invested in the story. I did find the novel to be well-written with vivid descriptions. I also like the settings of the Napa Valley and Tuscany Italy. Not only is The Winemakers a great summer read, but it will also appeal to fans of Lisa Jewell, Beatriz Williams, and Kate Morton.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


Praise:



“Absolutely adored THE WINEMAKERS. Beautifully layered and utterly compelling. Intriguing from start to finish. A story not to be missed.” –Jane Porter, USA Today and NYT Bestselling author of It’s You and The Good Woman

“Wildly romantic and utterly compelling, THE WINEMAKERS is full of family secrets and gorgeous descriptions of the Italian countryside and the vineyards of the Napa Valley. I was completely swept away!”  – Anita Hughes, author of Rome In Love

“Told with exquisite elegance and style, THE WINEMAKERS is a dazzling tale rich with family secrets, fine wine, and romance that will leave you breathless.”  – Juliette Sobanet, author of Sleeping with Paris





About The Author

     
     JAN MORAN is the author of the novel Scent of Triumph, and Fabulous Fragrances I and II, which earned spots on the Rizzoli Bookstore bestseller list. A fragrance and beauty expert, she has been featured in numerous publications and on television and radio, including CNN, Instyle, and O Magazine, and has spoken before prestigious organizations, including The American Society of Perfumers. She earned her MBA from Harvard Business school and attended the University of California at Los Angeles Extension Writers’ Program.

     For more information visit Jan’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.


Giveaway


     To win a $25 Gift Card to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iTunes, please enter the giveaway via the GLEAM form below.
Rules
– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on April 25th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open internationally.
– 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.





Saturday, April 9, 2016

Interview with Sara B. Larson

     Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Sara B. Larson. She is the author of the Defy trilogy. This young adult fantasy trilogy follows a strong female character named Alexa, who is in charge of saving her kingdom as well as her prince. In this interview, we get insight into the Defy trilogy and into her writing in general. Thank you, Mrs. Larson!



1. What inspired you to write Defy?

DEFY came from a very difficult period in my life, when I lost someone I loved. I was so upset by his death that I couldn’t write anything, but a friend of mine told me to stop trying to write a book and just write what I was feeling. So that’s exactly what I did. I sat down and wrote a scene, not intending for it to go anywhere…but then I got curious about the characters. This whole fascinating world unraveled itself and I realized Alexa had a very intriguing, difficult, but ultimately amazing story that needed to be told. I threw myself into that writing and from there the story took on its own life. It became a story of survival and moving forward, a story of what true courage and strength is, and a story about the many different kinds of love, and hope (even in the most desperate of situations) and risking everything for the chance of a better future.

2. The Defy trilogy is set in a medieval kingdom surrounded by jungle. How did you decide on that setting? 

As I said above, the world pretty much came to me how it was, without forethought. However, I’ve always been fascinated by the jungle and loved THE POISONWOOD BIBLE as a teenager, so I’m sure that was somewhere in my subconscious, waiting to come out! 

3. Alexa experienced a lot of loss. Did her story parallel a time in your own life that you drew upon?

Her story definitely stemmed from a place of loss, and that had a major impact on these books. I have experienced loss in many forms throughout my life and Alexa’s story actually taught me so much about dealing with those losses. Loss doesn’t always have to be death, either. It can be the loss of a dream, or the loss of the life you thought you would have, the loss of health, or many other things that cause us grief and pain. So no matter what I, or any of my readers, may be struggling with, I really loved the imagery at the end of ENDURE to look to the sky and remember the sunrise, to remember the light always comes back after the darkness, and to always seek for the happiness in our lives. 

4. Besides Alexa and Damian, who are your favorite characters in the trilogy?

I love so many characters in these books (and truly hated a few, too). Rylan was an amazing character who made me cry as hard as I’ve ever cried writing (or reading) a book because of the growth he went through and the selfless love he exemplified by the end of ENDURE. The same for Eljin. I loved his character and Tanoori, as well. And sweet little Jax. How could you not love him? 

5. Defy and Ignite are told from Alexa's perspective. In Endure, why did you choose to tell the prologue and epilogue from Damian's perspective?

I wasn’t intending on writing from his point of view, but when I sat down to start drafting the book, it just came out and then it felt so right I stuck with it. He deserved to have his voice heard, to get the chance to share his side of the story. And I loved sharing seeing Alexa through his eyes for the first time, since the rest of the story is all from her limited (and sometimes negatively biased) point of view. 

6. What drew you into the fantasy genre? Is it the freedom to step outside reality and create your own unique world?

I’ve always loved fantasy. I love the possibility of saying “what if this could happen?” and then running with it. And after writing realistic fiction once and having almost exactly the same events happen in my life, I really enjoy creating stories and worlds where the bad things can’t actually happen to me! 

7. Your books are classified in the "YA" genre. Does this genre come natural to you, or do you find yourself having to "tone down" elements of your story?

It definitely comes naturally to me. I think if I wrote for adults I would get told you need to “tone up” the elements of your story! 

8. What are some of the challenges of writing a trilogy versus a stand-alone story?

Trilogies actually come pretty naturally to me, too. I can’t seem to come up with stories that resolve in just one book. (Though never say never! It would be much easier to just write one book and be done!) It is definitely challenging to make sure you keep all the threads of the different plotlines and character arcs moving together, weaving it all into the one great whole that makes up a truly good trilogy. And though it can be tricky, I love putting in little tidbits and hints of things to come in earlier books that won’t make sense until you reach the last book. It’s such a thrill when readers tell me they went back to reread the books and caught so many things they’d missed before and that it was like reading a different book the second time. I love that!

9. How did you feel after finishing the trilogy? Did you miss it, or were you ready to move on?

I was so sad! I still miss writing in that world and those characters. It was such an emotional ending to write, it was very bittersweet, to say the least. But it is also very exciting to move on to new worlds and new characters. As with many things in life, it’s complicated. ;-) 

10. What message do you hope readers will take away from your trilogy?

I hope they take away what I did – the courage to face whatever difficulties and losses they’re dealing with in their lives, and that imagery of the sunrise. I think my dedication sums it well: to look to the sky and remember. 

11. What projects can we look forward to next?

I’m hard at work on edits for my new YA fantasy, DARK BREAKS THE DAWN, coming out with Scholastic in Summer of 2017. It’s being pitched as GRACELING meets SWAN LAKE. I’ve always loved Swan Lake and have spent years trying to figure out how to do a retelling or incorporate it into a storyline. When I finally came up with this idea it all just clicked! I’m so thrilled to share this story with my readers next year!

Sara B. Larson is the author of the Young Adult fantasy novel, Defy and its sequels, Ignite and Endure. She lives in Utah with her husband and her three children. Visit her website.





Also, check out my reviews of Sara B. Larson's novels:

Defy

Ignite

Endure

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Empress of Bright Moon by Weina Dai Randel: A Book Review

The Empress of Bright Moon
Author: Weina Dai Randel
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Release Date: April 5, 2016
Pages: 370
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: The time for taking hold of her destiny is now.

     At the moment of the Emperor's death, everything changes in the palace. Mei, his former concubine, is free, and Pheasant, the heir and Mei's lover, is proclaimed as the new Emperor, heralding a new era in China. But just when Mei believes she's closer to her dream, Pheasant's chief wife, Lady Wang, powerful and unpredictable, turns against Mei and takes unthinkable measures to stop her. The power struggle that ensues will determine Mei's fate–and that of China.

     Surrounded by enemies within the palace that she calls home, Mei continues her journey to the throne in The Empress of Bright Moon, the second book in Weina Dai Randel's acclaimed duology. Only by fighting back against those who wish her harm will Mei be able to realize her destiny as the most powerful woman in China.

     My Review: The Empress of Bright Moon is the sequel to The Moon in the Palace. When Emperor Taizong dies, it seems like all will be well for a new era of the Tang dynasty. Her lover, Emperor Gaozong, is ready to be the good ruler that he has always dreamed. However, Emperor Taizong's brother-in-law becomes Regent, and Mei is forced to enter a Buddhist monastery. After years of loneliness and separation, she is finally reunited with Emperor Gaozong, and she becomes the second highest lady in the court. However, she finds that she has made a deadly enemy in Empress Wang, and the two of them become rivals as they fight for the title of Empress and the Emperor’s heart.

     In The Moon in the Palace, we see Mei as a naive girl who is thrust into the political intrigues of the court. In this novel, Mei is mature and she is more adept at politics.  She becomes a close advisor to the Emperor. However, she finds that this court is more dangerous than during Emperor Taizong’s reign. She realizes that finding happiness is not easy, and she realizes that she has to experience the loss of her dear ones. This makes her angry, sometimes ruthless, and vengeful. However, she soon learns to bestows acts of kindness, mercy, and forgiveness to her enemies. To forgive her enemies is something she struggles throughout this novel, yet it is also demonstrates her strength. She is also very intelligent and strategic. She is very observant in how to defeat her enemies. Thus, I found Mei to be a very strong character.

     Overall, this novel is about loss, choices, forgiveness, and redemption. It is about a woman who is trying to cope with loss. The message of the book is that where there is darkness, there is hope. This novel is very heart-wrenching and is an emotional, poignant, and raw read. I loved how this book portrays a mother’s love for her children, and how she overcomes her personal tragedies.  Mei is a very complex character. She is very flawed, yet she is very real. I also found the villain to be very compelling. The empress was a victim of her circumstances. She too has suffered. She is evil because the court is cruel. She is the empress, and yet she is not treated as one. She is humiliated and criticized for not bearing a son. Like Mei, she too, has to fight for the Emperor’s affections to bring duty and honor to her family. Instead, she is the laughingstock of her family and is mocked. This novel perfectly shows the dangers and cruelty of the Tang court. Instead of a duology, I would have liked there to be a trilogy to see how Mei has grown when she becomes the Emperor of China. Still, The Empress of the Bright Moon left me utterly breathless, and this novel will linger with you long after you have read the final page. I recommend this book to fans of Stephanie Dray, Allison Pataki, and Marci Jefferson.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars



Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel: A Book Review

The Moon in the Palace
Author: Weina Dai Randel
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Release Date: March 1, 2016
Pages: 402
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: There is no easy path for a woman aspiring to power.

     A concubine at the palace learns quickly that there are many ways to capture the Emperor's attention. Many paint their faces white and style their hair attractively, hoping to lure in the One Above All with their beauty. Some present him with fantastic gifts, such as jade pendants and scrolls of calligraphy, while others rely on their knowledge of seduction to draw his interest. But young Mei knows nothing of these womanly arts, yet she will give the Emperor a gift he can never forget.

     Mei's intelligence and curiosity, the same traits that make her an outcast among the other concubines, impress the Emperor. But just as she is in a position to seduce the most powerful man in China, divided loyalties split the palace in two, culminating in a perilous battle that Mei can only hope to survive.

     In the breakthrough first volume in the Empress of Bright Moon duology, Weina Dai Randel paints a vibrant portrait of ancient China—where love, ambition, and loyalty can spell life or death—and the woman who came to rule it all.

     My Review: Wu Zetian is China’s female emperor. The Moon in the Palace chronicles the early life of Empress Wu. Mei, as Wu is called in this novel, receives a prophecy at five years old that she will be the mother of emperors and an emperor in her own name. Her fate pleases her father, and believes that Mei will bring her family honor. When she enters the palace at thirteen, she believes that she will immediately lead a good life. However, she soon finds that there is treachery in the court, as hundreds of women are fighting to receive the Emperor’s affection. Mei realizes that she must stay ahead of her enemies so that she can survive and bring her family honor. 

     Mei is a woman who is devoted to her family. She wants her parents to be proud of her. She is very intelligent and likes to read. When she goes to the palace, she is very naive and trusting. She soon realizes that she cannot trust anyone in the harem because they too have the same ambition as Mei. Mei becomes more observant. She is always planning for her survival. She finds a few friends and is very loyal to them. She is also very compassionate. Even though she does not like her enemies, she still feels some pity for them. She also yearns to live the life she wants and fights for her happiness. She does not want to be someone’s pawn. Thus, throughout the course of the novel, Mei develops into a mature and capable young woman.

     Overall, this novel is about duty, friendship, love, loyalty, choices, loss, and sacrifices. This novel is about a woman who is searching to find her own happiness. I liked how Mei grew as a character, and I look forward to reading the sequel to see how she has grown. I loved how the author portrays the danger and cruelty within the Tang court. This novel is full of court intrigue, action, danger, and a forbidden romance. Moon in the Palace left me breathless and utterly captivated, and I cannot wait to read Empress of Bright Moon. This novel is sure to  appeal to fans of soap operas and to fans of the historical dramas, The Tudors, Marco Polo, and The Borgias.  This novel will also delight fans of C.W. Gortner, Philippa Gregory, Michelle Moran, and Stephanie Dray.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars



Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Daughters of Palatine Hill by Phyllis T. Smith: A Book Review

The Daughters of Palatine Hill
Author: Phyllis T. Smith
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: February 16, 2016
Pages: 412
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Two years after Emperor Augustus’s bloody defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, he triumphantly returns to Rome. To his only child, Julia, he brings an unlikely companion—Selene, the daughter of the conquered Egyptian queen and her lover.

     Under the watchful eye of Augustus’s wife, Livia, Selene struggles to accept her new home among her parents’ enemies. Bound together by kinship and spilled blood, these three women—Livia, Selene, and Julia—navigate the dangerous world of Rome’s ruling elite, their every move a political strategy, their most intimate decisions in the emperor’s hands.

     Always suppressing their own desires for the good of Rome, each must fulfill her role. For astute Livia, this means unwavering fidelity to her all-powerful husband; for sensual Julia, surrender to an arranged marriage and denial of her craving for love and the pleasures of the flesh; for orphaned Selene, choosing between loyalty to her family’s killers and her wish for revenge.

     Can they survive Rome’s deadly intrigues, or will they be swept away by the perilous currents of the world’s most powerful empire?

     My Review: The Daughters of Palatine Hill is the sequel to I Am Livia. The story is told through the perspective of three women; Livia, Emperor Augustus’s wife, Julia, Emperor Augustus’s daughter, and Cleopatra Selene, daughter of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Three women each experience the cruelty of their Roman world. Each of them struggle to find their own happiness. However these three women soon find themselves caught up in the midst of political intrigue, and must make very hard choices.

     In the novel I Am Livia, we get to see Livia’s development from a young naive girl to a mature, smart, and capable young woman. In The Daughters of Palatine Hill, she has reached her maturity. She is politically adept and shrewd. She can be seen as cold and ruthless. However, she is loyal to her husband, Caesar Augustus, and has become his advisor. While she is wary of Cleopatra Selene due her to her parentage, she does see her younger self in her, and forms a kinship with her. She is also a loving mother to her children. She cares about her city and wants to restore peace and prosperity. I really did love Livia. She was Caesar Augustus’s conscience. She was his human side. She made her husband resort to acts of mercy for his enemies.

     While this book portrays Julia as a sympathetic character, I really did not like  her. This novel merely depicts her as a tool for her father to build the legacy of her empire. However, I did not agree with her actions. She was rebellious with her father, and it shows that her actions broke her father’s heart. Seeing how Julia has hurt her father really made me dislike her a lot because it was very heart-breaking reading it. Caesar Augustus loved his daughter and her betrayal really crushed his soul. While this book shows that Julia does this because she is lonely and that she wants to be with the man she loves, I still think that severing her ties with her father completely was not justified. Therefore, Julia seemed like a selfish character who does not think about the consequences she has on others.

     Cleopatra Selene was my favorite character in this book. She really had it hard. She watched her parents die and she was forced to live under her enemies household. She was a woman who suffered great pain, always wary of her enemies. She lives day to day as she wonders if Caesar Augustus will kill her any minute. She thinks only of survival, and gives her loyalty to Livia so she can live. She does fall in love with with Juba, a prince who also has lost his kingdom. The two are kindred spirits because they know what it is like to serve and live under their enemies. They become king and queen of Mauretania, and Cleopatra Selene wants to build a legacy of her forebears. However, with trouble stirring in Rome, Cleopatra Selene finds herself having to make tough decisions and sacrifices for the good of her kingdom.

     Overall, this novel is filled with love, loss, friendship, survival, choices, and sacrifices. This story is filled with political intrigue, drama, treachery, betrayal, and danger. The characters are very complex and interesting. I thought the novel was well-written. However, I wished that the story was not told from Julia’s perspective. I would have liked the novel to be told from two women, Livia and Cleopatra Selene. I also would have liked there to be more chapters on Cleopatra Selene. Still, the novel was very enjoyable, and it felt like Rome’s First family had come alive. After reading both I Am Livia and The Daughters of Palatine Hill, I am looking forward to reading more books by this author. I recommend this novel to those who are interested in reading about Caesar Augustus and Cleopatra Selene. This novel is also perfect for fans of HBO’s Rome and BBC’s I, Claudius.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

I Am Livia by Phyllis T. Smith: A Book Review

I Am Livia
Author: Phyllis T. Smith
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: 2014
Pages: 391
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: Her life would be marked by scandal and suspicion, worship and adoration…

     At the tender age of fourteen, Livia Drusilla overhears her father and fellow aristocrats plotting the assassination of Julius Caesar. Proving herself an astute confidante, she becomes her father’s chief political asset—and reluctantly enters into an advantageous marriage to a prominent military officer. Her mother tells her, “It is possible for a woman to influence public affairs,” reminding Livia that—while she possesses a keen sense for the machinations of the Roman senate—she must also remain patient and practical.

     But patience and practicality disappear from Livia’s mind when she meets Caesar’s heir, Octavianus. At only eighteen, he displays both power and modesty. A young wife by that point, Livia finds herself drawn to the golden-haired boy. In time, his fortunes will rise as Livia’s family faces terrible danger. But her sharp intellect—and her heart—will lead Livia to make an unbelievable choice: one that will give her greater sway over Rome than she could have ever foreseen.

     My Review: I am Livia recounts the early life of Livia Drusilla, wife of Emperor Augustus. Being the most powerful woman in Ancient Rome, she has often been maligned by her contemporaries. One myth was that she carried around poisons. Told from Livia’s perspective, this novel shows that Livia was Augustus’s political advisor and is a woman who wants her empire to have peace and prosperity.

     Livia is a sympathetic character. At first she is naive and very romantic, but after suffering many tragedies she becomes a strong and mature young woman. She can often be very cold, sometimes ruthless and unforgiving. However, she can also be kind and merciful at times, and bestows charity upon her friends. She is also very loyal to those who are dear to her. Livia abhors bloodshed and wants peace within her kingdom. She is also very intelligent and adept in politics. She wants her husband to be merciful with his enemies. She is also strong, courageous, and outspoken. She is not afraid to stand up for what she believes in.

     Overall, this book is about a woman trying to find peace and happiness in a cruel world. I liked how the author portrayed Ancient Rome, for it is a dangerous world full of war, bloodshed, and scandal. All these characters are complex characters. This novel is full of political intrigue, drama, treachery, and betrayal. I found this novel to be meticulously researched and beautifully written. I did find the ending to be rushed, and I would have liked for the novel to be longer. Nevertheless, I liked how it gave me a more sympathetic view of Livia. She is portrayed as a very human figure, and I found her actions to be relatable. She was a woman that wished for the good of her empire. I recommend this novel to fans of Michelle Moran, Kate Quinn, and Elizabeth Storrs.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang: A Book Review

Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China
Author: Jung Chang
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Biography
Publisher: Knopf
Release Date: 2013
Pages: 498
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908) is the most important woman in Chinese history. She ruled China for decades and brought a medieval empire into the modern age.
At the age of sixteen, in a nationwide selection for royal consorts, Cixi was chosen as one of the emperor’s numerous concubines. When he died in 1861, their five-year-old son succeeded to the throne. Cixi at once launched a palace coup against the regents appointed by her husband and made herself the real ruler of China—behind the throne, literally, with a silk screen separating her from her officials who were all male.

     In this groundbreaking biography, Jung Chang vividly describes how Cixi fought against monumental obstacles to change China. Under her the ancient country attained virtually all the attributes of a modern state: industries, railways, electricity, the telegraph and an army and navy with up-to-date weaponry. It was she who abolished gruesome punishments like “death by a thousand cuts” and put an end to foot-binding. She inaugurated women’s liberation and embarked on the path to introduce parliamentary elections to China. Chang comprehensively overturns the conventional view of Cixi as a diehard conservative and cruel despot.

     Cixi reigned during extraordinary times and had to deal with a host of major national crises: the Taiping and Boxer rebellions, wars with France and Japan—and an invasion by eight allied powers including Britain, Germany, Russia and the United States. Jung Chang not only records the Empress Dowager’s conduct of domestic and foreign affairs, but also takes the reader into the depths of her splendid Summer Palace and the harem of Beijing’s Forbidden City, where she lived surrounded by eunuchs—one of whom she fell in love, with tragic consequences. The world Chang describes here, in fascinating detail, seems almost unbelievable in its extraordinary mixture of the very old and the very new.

     Based on newly available, mostly Chinese, historical documents such as court records, official and private correspondence, diaries and eyewitness accounts, this biography will revolutionize historical thinking about a crucial period in China’s—and the world’s—history. Packed with drama, fast paced and gripping, it is both a panoramic depiction of the birth of modern China and an intimate portrait of a woman: as the concubine to a monarch, as the absolute ruler of a third of the world’s population, and as a unique stateswoman.

     My Review: Empress Dowager Cixi is the last empress of China. She has been criticized by many for ending the Chinese Imperial Dynasty. She is known to be the woman who betrayed her country, and her reign was known to be the weakest and most corrupt period of the Qing Dynasty. However, in this biography of the empress, Jung Chang portrays Cixi as a feminist who brought medieval China into the modern age. It was she who saw that the world was industrializing, and she too tried to keep China up-to-date in her times.

     Ever since childhood, Empress Dowager Cixi had been interested in politics. When she became concubine, she never meant to be important. She was a woman in the harem. Because she gave birth to a son and she had a friendship with Empress Zhen when her son became emperor, she became Empress Dowager. Together, Empress Zhen and Empress Cixi formed a partnership and began to rule China to protect the emperor from his foes. Eventually, Cixi became the ultimate power behind the throne. It was shown that Cixi was a shrewd and pragmatic woman. She was for women’s rights and put an end to foot-binding in China. She would also have been for women’s suffrage. She also believed that the government was for the people and petitioned for China to have a constitutional monarchy. Thus, Cixi was a woman of her time who believed in Western ideals. She was also a very competent ruler, and her ministers supported her because they believed that she was the only one who could rule China capably.

     Thus, this biography shows Cixi’s many accomplishments to help China. The author shows that she greatly admired and sympathized with Cixi. Cixi had her flaws. She could be ruthless and made mistakes, but it was clear that she loved China and its people. She let her people vote for the first time in her reign and made them citizens rather than subjects. If Cixi had lived a bit longer, she might have stabilized China into being a constitutional monarchy. This biography mostly focuses on the later life of Empress Dowager Cixi. I would have liked to have learned more about Cixi’s early life, for instance her relationships with Emperor Xianfeng and her son Emperor Tongzhi, and her friendship with Empress Zheng. While this biography can be dry at times, it is still very comprehensive to the general reader. Still, this book shows Empress Dowager Cixi in a different light and contradicts many of the myths that have been painted of her. This biography shows Cixi was as a shrewd woman who loved her country and was actually a female ruler who was forward-thinking and ahead of her times.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Here is the author talking about her book: Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China:


Saturday, April 2, 2016

Sisi: Empress on Her Own by Allison Pataki: A Book Review

Sisi: Empress on Her Own
Author: Allison Pataki
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: The Dial Press
Release Date: March 8, 2016
Pages: 465
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • For readers of Philippa Gregory, Paula McLain, and Daisy Goodwin comes a sweeping and powerful novel by Allison Pataki. Sisi tells the little-known story of Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary, the Princess Diana of her time, in an enthralling work of historical fiction that is also a gripping page-turner.

     Married to Emperor Franz Joseph, Elisabeth—fondly known as Sisi—captures the hearts of her people as their “fairy queen,” but beneath that dazzling persona lives a far more complex figure. In mid-nineteenth-century Vienna, the halls of the Hofburg Palace buzz not only with imperial waltzes and champagne but with temptations, rivals, and cutthroat intrigue. Feeling stifled by strict protocols and a turbulent marriage, Sisi grows restless. A free-spirited wanderer, she finds solace at her estate outside Budapest. There she rides her beloved horses and enjoys visits from the Hungarian statesman Count Andrássy, the man with whom she’s unwittingly fallen in love. But tragic news brings Sisi out of her fragile seclusion, forcing her to return to her capital and a world of gossip, envy, and sorrow where a dangerous fate lurks in the shadows.

     Through love affairs and loss, dedication and defiance, Sisi struggles against conflicting desires: to keep her family together, or to flee amid the collapse of her suffocating marriage and the gathering tumult of the First World War. In an age of crumbling monarchies, Sisi fights to assert her right to the throne beside her husband, to win the love of her people and the world, and to save an empire. But in the end, can she save herself?

     Featuring larger-than-life historic figures such as Bavaria’s “Mad King Ludwig” and the tragic Crown Prince Rudolf, and set against many of Europe’s grandest sites—from Germany’s storied Neuschwanstein Castle to England’s lush shires—Sisi brings to life an extraordinary woman and the romantic, volatile era over which she presided.

     My Review: Sisi is the sequel to The Accidental Empress. The story chronicles Sisi’s older years from the time she lives in Hungary away from her husband to her assassination. In this novel, Sisi believes that she has found happiness at last, only to find that there are problems with her family and she must return to the Austrian court. As she faces family drama, tragedy, and hostile life at the Vienna court, Sisi is filled with sadness and regret. She realizes that it is not good to be queen. Can Sisi be able to find the happiness and freedom that she longs for?

     Sisi is a sympathetic character. She was not prepared for her role as queen, and she did not play her role well. She longs to escape from the protocol of the court and to go horseback riding and take care of her infant daughter, Valerie, whom she can finally be a mother to rather than give to her suffocating mother-in-law. However, Sisi was not without faults and made some bad decisions. She was selfish at times. She did not think about others except herself. She also did not know how to be a mother to her elder children. She neglected both her only son and her elder daughter. It was not until it was too late that she recognized the consequences of her actions, and she regrets the choices she has made. The fact that she regretted what she had done made her more human and forgiving because she realizes the costs of her doings.

     Overall, this novel is an in-depth psyche of a complex woman. The story is about a woman’s quest to find happiness. Sisi was very flawed and complex, but she is real and vulnerable. This story was very beautiful, poignant, heart-breaking, and tragic. This novel is very meticulously researched, and I felt that I was walking side by side by the Empress reliving her most intimate moments. This book is full of political intrigue, drama, and scandal. I thought that Sisi was a breathtaking conclusion to The Accidental Empress. While this book is long, I honestly did not want this book to end for I was very fascinated by Sisi’s saga. Treat yourself to Sisi for this is a novel that you do not want to miss! I cannot highly recommend it enough for I love this book even better than The Accidental Empress! Sisi is a feast for historical fiction lovers and it will appeal to fans of Stephanie Dray, C.W. Gortner,  and Philippa Gregory.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars