June 15, 2017

Review | Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Review | Heartless by Marissa MeyerHeartless by Marissa Meyer
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends, November 2016
Pages: 453
Format: Hardcover
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Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.

Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

The Queen of Hearts is one of those mythical figures in literature, a character so intense in their present state that we forget they were once more (or less) than they are now. From Voldemort to the Joker so many villains get to tell their side of the story in today’s novels. It’s time, don’t you think, for the Queen of Hearts to share hers?

I was thrilled when I saw Marissa Meyer was writing a take on Alice in Wonderland. After The Lunar Chronicles had ended, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on her next book and immediately pre-ordered it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all I hoped.

In all fairness, I probably cracked this up in my head more than it should be. Cath (our pre-Queen of Hearts) is a sweet girl, devoted to her baking and desperately wants to leave the court to open her own bakery with her friend. Yet without her parents’ permission and financial support, Cath’s in a bind. Her parents would rather she marry a nice (preferably rich) man who would take care of their eccentric daughter. Lo and behold, the King of Hearts soon reveals he has his eye on her, but too late; Cath is entranced by the court joker.

The courtship of Jest (the Joker) and Cath is sweet, edged with just a hint of danger. Both know nothing can come of it, and with the king’s eye on Cath, she’s all but queen. But her little rebellion livens up what is otherwise a slow narrative in Heartless.

Without the fast pace of The Lunar Chronicles, Cath’s story fell flat. Instead, Meyer pumps up each supporting character’s primary characteristic: the king gets more ludicrous, the Cat more mysterious, the Hatter more…well, mad. With a great narration, the characters’ eccentricities wouldn’t have been as noticeable, but instead, they are left to carry the weight of the story.

Cath herself started to border on whiny, making it hard to stick with her through the slow portions of Heartless (and as much as I hate to say it, there were quite a few). I stopped caring about her; really, by the end, View Spoiler »

The transformation from Cath to the Queen at the end of the book stole the show. I might reread that section just to revel in the change. As for the rest of the story? Not for me.

3 Stars

Posted June 15, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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June 7, 2017

Review | The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Review | The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey NiffeneggerThe Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Publisher: MacAdam/Cage, January 1970
Pages: 528
Format: Paperback
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The Time Traveler's Wife is the story of Clare, a beautiful art student, and Henry, an adventuresome librarian, who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-three and Henry thirty-one. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity in his life, past and future. His disappearances are spontaneous, his experiences unpredictable, alternately harrowing and amusing.

The Time Traveler's Wife depicts the effects of time travel on Henry and Clare's marriage and their passionate love for each other as the story unfolds from both points of view. Clare and Henry attempt to live normal lives, pursuing familiar goals--steady jobs, good friends, children of their own. All of this is threatened by something they can neither prevent nor control, making their story intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

Sometimes, I’m a part of a book’s adoring crowd, telling everyone I know (and occasionally people I don’t) about how much I love a book. Unfortunately, with The Time Traveler’s Wife, this isn’t one of those times.

To start from the beginning, this is M’s book. He doesn’t have a lot of books (being a movie kind of guy), but this is one he went out and bought. He’s been at me for years to read Niffenegger’s work, so I finally did. I finished it in one night, but not for the reasons you’d expect.

The premise is intriguing: A time traveler, constantly falling back and forth in time, keeps dropping in on his future/current wife at different stages of her life and his. But it’s that constant hope that they can be together that ties The Time Traveler’s Wife together…well, presumably.

I can’t help it; I found the idea of a forty-year-old man falling in love with a child extremely creepy. Granted, he was already in love with the future her, his counterpart, but the scenes between her as a child and him as a full-grown man gave me the major creeps. That’s not to say there was anything Lolita-like about this novel: Niffenegger keeps well away from that danger zone.

Eventually, I started to get fed up with all their trials. Every moment, right before they can finally connect, spend time together, whatever, he gets yanked away by the mysterious force of time, leaving her behind to pick up his discarded clothing. It felt like there was nothing to cheer for in their relationship; while it might be true love, it felt essentially doomed. And, quite simply, it broke my heart.

I didn’t feel that magic, that draw, that everyone (including M, who loves this book) feels with The Time Traveler’s Wife. I wanted so desperately some sort of happy ending, something to give me hope for these two people who have essentially lived their lives longing. Without that element, the story felt horribly sad, a novel I couldn’t wait to put down.

2 Stars

Posted June 7, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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June 6, 2017

Just Added: Top Ten New Fantasy

Top Ten

 

If winter is for mysteries and sweeping historical romances, summer owns beach reads and, my favorite, fantasy. In the past months, I’ve been trying to expand my horizons and read new (or new-to-me) authors, stories and series. Here are the top ten fantasy books I can’t wait to get my hands on!

 

Just Added: Top Ten New FantasyDaughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

There will be plenty of time for me to beat him soundly once I’ve gotten what I came for.
Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain Alosa deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship.

More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the Daughter of the Pirate King.

Just Added: Top Ten New FantasyShimmer and Burn by Mary Taranta

Faris grew up fighting to survive in the slums of Brindaigel while caring for her sister, Cadence. But when Cadence is caught trying to flee the kingdom and is sold into slavery, Faris reluctantly agrees to a lucrative scheme to buy her back, inadvertently binding herself to the power-hungry Princess Bryn, who wants to steal her father’s throne.

Now Faris must smuggle stolen magic into neighboring Avinea to incite its prince to alliance—magic that addicts in the war-torn country can sense in her blood and can steal with a touch. She and Bryn turn to a handsome traveling magician, North, who offers protection from Avinea’s many dangers, but he cannot save Faris from Bryn’s cruelty as she leverages Cadence’s freedom to force Faris to do anything—or kill anyone—she asks. Yet Faris is as fierce as Bryn, and even as she finds herself falling for North, she develops schemes of her own.

With the fate of kingdoms at stake, Faris, Bryn, and North maneuver through a dangerous game of magical and political machinations, where lives can be destroyed—or saved—with only a touch.

Just Added: Top Ten New FantasyThe Demon Lover by Juliet Dark, Carol Goodman

Since accepting a teaching position at remote Fairwick College in upstate New York, Callie McFay has experienced the same disturbingly sensual dream every night: A mist enters her bedroom, then takes the shape of a virile, seductive stranger who proceeds to ravish her in the most toe-curling, wholly satisfying ways possible. Perhaps these dreams are the result of her having written the bestselling book The Sex Lives of Demon Lovers. Callie’s lifelong passion is the intersection of lurid fairy tales and Gothic literature—which is why she’s found herself at Fairwick’s renowned folklore department, living in a once-stately Victorian house that, at first sight, seemed to call her name.

But Callie soon realizes that her dreams are alarmingly real. She has a demon lover—an incubus—and he will seduce her, pleasure her, and eventually suck the very life from her. Then Callie makes another startling discovery: Her incubus is not the only mythical creature in Fairwick. As the tenured witches of the college and the resident fairies in the surrounding woods prepare to cast out the demon, Callie must accomplish something infinitely more difficult—banishing this supernatural lover from her heart.

Just Added: Top Ten New FantasyVoyager by Diana Gabaldon

Their passionate encounter happened long ago by whatever measurement Claire Randall took. Two decades before, she had traveled back in time and into the arms of a gallant eighteenth-century Scot named Jamie Fraser. Then she returned to her own century to bear his child, believing him dead in the tragic battle of Culloden. Yet his memory has never lessened its hold on her... and her body still cries out for him in her dreams.

Then Claire discovers that Jamie survived. Torn between returning to him and staying with their daughter in her own era, Claire must choose her destiny. And as time and space come full circle, she must find the courage to face the passion and pain awaiting her...the deadly intrigues raging in a divided Scotland... and the daring voyage into the dark unknown that can reunite or forever doom her timeless love.

Just Added: Top Ten New FantasyForest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng's majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?
Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins--sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.

Just Added: Top Ten New FantasyRenegades by Marissa Meyer

The Renegades are a syndicate of prodigies—humans with extraordinary abilities—who emerged from the ruins of a crumbled society and established peace and order where chaos reigned. As champions of justice, they remain a symbol of hope and courage to everyone...except the villains they once overthrew.

Nova has a reason to hate the Renegades, and she is on a mission for vengeance. As she gets closer to her target, she meets Adrian, a Renegade boy who believes in justice—and in Nova. But Nova's allegiance is to a villain who has the power to end them both.

Just Added: Top Ten New FantasyThe Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo, Sara Kipin

Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.
Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid's voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy's bidding but only for a terrible price.

 

Just Added: Top Ten New FantasyWonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

She will become one of the world’s greatest heroes: WONDER WOMAN. But first she is Diana, Princess of the Amazons. And her fight is just beginning. . .

Diana longs to prove herself to her legendary warrior sisters. But when the opportunity finally comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law—risking exile—to save a mere mortal. Even worse, Alia Keralis is no ordinary girl and with this single brave act, Diana may have doomed the world.

Alia just wanted to escape her overprotective brother with a semester at sea. She doesn’t know she is being hunted. When a bomb detonates aboard her ship, Alia is rescued by a mysterious girl of extraordinary strength and forced to confront a horrible truth: Alia is a Warbringer—a direct descendant of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of bloodshed and misery.

Together, Diana and Alia will face an army of enemies—mortal and divine—determined to either destroy or possess the Warbringer. If they have any hope of saving both their worlds, they will have to stand side by side against the tide of war.

Just Added: Top Ten New FantasyFireblood by Elly Blake

Against all odds, Ruby has defeated the villainous Frost King and melted his throne of ice. But the bloodthirsty Minax that was trapped inside is now haunting her kingdom and everyone she loves. The answers to its demise may lie to the south in Sudesia, the land of the Firebloods, and a country that holds the secrets to Ruby's powers and past....

Despite warnings from her beloved Arcus, Ruby accompanies a roguish Fireblood named Kai to Sudesia, where she must master her control of fire in a series of trials to gain the trust of the suspicious Fireblood queen. Only then can she hope to access the knowledge that could defeat the rampaging Minax--which grows closer every moment. But as sparks fly in her moments alone with Kai, how can Ruby decide whom to trust? The fate of both kingdoms is now in her hands.

Just Added: Top Ten New FantasyWintersong by S. Jae-Jones

Beware the goblin men and the wares they sell.
All her life, nineteen-year-old Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, mysterious Goblin King. He is the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground, and the muse around which her music is composed. Yet, as Liesl helps shoulder the burden of running her family’s inn, her dreams of composition and childish fancies about the Goblin King must be set aside in favor of more practical concerns.

But when her sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl journeys to their realm to rescue her sister and return her to the world above. The Goblin King agrees to let Käthe go—for a price. The life of a maiden must be given to the land, in accordance with the old laws. A life for a life, he says. Without sacrifice, nothing good can grow. Without death, there can be no rebirth. In exchange for her sister’s freedom, Liesl offers her hand in marriage to the Goblin King. He accepts.

Down in the Underground, Liesl discovers that the Goblin King still inspires her—musically, physically, emotionally. Yet even as her talent blossoms, Liesl’s life is slowly fading away, the price she paid for becoming the Goblin King’s bride. As the two of them grow closer, they must learn just what it is they are each willing to sacrifice: her life, her music, or the end of the world.

Posted June 6, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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June 5, 2017

Review | Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Review | Jurassic Park by Michael CrichtonJurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Series: Jurassic Park, #1
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, January 1970
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback
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State-of-the-art science and suspense combine in this uniquely exciting high-tension thriller from the author of The Andromeda Strain. Bio-engineers create authentic, detail-perfect, real-life dinosaurs for a Pacific island theme park, but scientific triumph explodes into horrendous disaster as the first visitors encounter the unbelievable.

Jurassic Park is one of those iconic stories that everyone knows. Whether it’s the image of the velociraptors prancing through the stainless steel, never-before-used restaurant kitchen or the haunting outline of the T-rex as it prowls through the park, it’s as crucial to a young moviegoer’s education as Star Wars.

So, naturally, when I found a paperback copy of Michael Crichton’s bestseller, I grabbed it.

The novel and the movie are alike and not, all at once. There’s power to Crichton’s writing that doesn’t make it into the film, an enchantment that makes science and the notion of a prehistoric theme park entirely plausible. This dominant narrative is in the movie, but I feel the characters are really what sets this story apart.

On the surface level, the characters seem somewhat multi-dimensional. John Hammond, the old man who fantasizes about bringing dinosaurs to life and has the funds to do it, his susceptible grandkids who just want to find an escape contrast with the glass-half-empty lawyer and the observant, scientific-minded folks. Together, they make more drama than the island of prehistoric animals ever could (not that they don’t try).

But it’s what each of those characters represents that really makes Jurassic Park a winner. Hammond is determined to buy his happiness, convinced that his money can overcome the power of nature. His constant refrain of “my animals” and something along the lines of “wouldn’t hurt a fly” indicates a man deep in denial, convinced his money can buy anything or both.

He sets up the argument of nature versus nurture and whether humankind can (and should) mess with the process that has evolved our world. The scientific group of characters appears to be the most rational, excluding one: Hammond’s scientist. He has, for lack of a better term, drunk too much of the Kool-Aid and only starts to realize what a monster (no pun intended) he’s created.

The other scientists waver between awe and fear. They are, strangely, the only ones who seem to realize the danger lurking around every corner of the island and the inevitable spread of the dinosaurs to other parts of the world. This constant tug of war between nature and humankind’s involvement brought a new level of fascination to Jurassic Park.

That being said, it was hard not to roll my eyes when the characters did something stupid (a battle I often lost). Some of the decisions made by otherwise smart, rational people took away from the storyline and disjointing the characters. The actions of Hammond and his employees, however, were entirely in character, but sometimes still as irritating.

The major flaw of the book lay in Crichton’s tendency to infodump. In his zeal to impress the scientific importance of the discovery, the evolution, and the progress of the park, he occasionally drops off into what I can only describe as an encyclopedic tone. It’s dry and really not needed. I’m reading about dinosaurs made from frog DNA, for heaven’s sake.

All in all, a good book and a must read for die-hard fans and science fiction fanatics.

3 Stars

Posted June 5, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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May 17, 2017

Wrap-Up | The Latest DNFs

Wrap-Up | The Latest DNFsFalse Pretenses by Catherine Coulter
Publisher: Signet Book, March 2000
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback

"New York Times" Bestselling author. Her first contemporary suspense-now repackaged! Beautifully repackaged for her ever-growing legion of fans, this is the explosive story of how one woman must survive the destruction of her perfect life-and the intentions of three mysterious men.

I hate marking books DNF. Even though I’m coming to terms with it, it’s still a struggle because I know this is an author’s baby, their pride and joy. But sometimes, an individual book and I just aren’t a match. That’s what happened with these three.

Hearing so much about Catherine Coulter, I couldn’t wait to start reading her work. Being the slightly-Monk-like OCD person I am, I wanted to start at the beginning, or as close as I could get to her work. Which is what lead me to False Pretenses.

I was hoping for a Theresa RussellBlack Widow type character, or at least some kind of character growth. But concert pianist Elizabeth Carleton is meek and stilted. As the main character and focus of the plot, she needed to come alive to create the kind of tension False Pretenses needs to be alive. Instead, she just remains words on a page.

Without the great protagonist, the story sorely needed, the rest of the characters and their motives only fell flat. It was hard to believe all those men fell in love with her, making their own characters suspect and unbelievable.

Is there another Catherine Coulter book I should try? What do you recommend?

Wrap-Up | The Latest DNFsBlush by Cherry Adair
Publisher: Gallery Books, April 2015
Pages: 387

In the same pulse-pounding style as Maya Banks and Kresley Cole, New York Times bestselling author Cherry Adair delivers a sizzling erotic romance about a sexy billionaire who’s on the run—and the hit-man-turned-handyman who’s supposed to kill her.

Sex with a stranger. Learn to drive. Learn to cook. Learn to pole dance. Sex under the stars. Buy a truck. These are just a few of the things on Amelia Wentworth’s bucket list, but as the CEO and face of a multi-billion-dollar cosmetic empire, she’s never quite found the time to do them.

Until, after a series of accidents, Amelia discovers that someone wants her dead. But who? And why? She has no time for questions as she changes her name to Mia, buys a secluded fixer-upper near the Louisiana bayou where no one will recognize her, and starts checking things off her bucket list like there’s no tomorrow—which there might not be.

Meanwhile, Cruz Barcelona is a hit man who’s promised himself this will be his last job. Then he’ll take the money and move to a warm, sunny place where he doesn’t have to hide anymore. But when Cruz goes undercover to Mia’s ramshackle house, he starts to realize there’s far more to this poor-little-rich-girl than he thought—and he starts to fall for her. Which is going to make his job a whole lot harder…

A cosmetics CEO on the run, determined to cross off her bucket list. A dark assassin hired to kill her. Irresistible chemistry…right?

That’s what I’d hoped for when I grabbed Cherry Adair’s Blush off the shelf. Sure, the cover is a little more suggestive than I typically like to go for, but hey, I’ll try it. But when the protagonists start doing the dirty in the first chapter of the book, something’s off.

If you’ve been with me for a while or looked around on the blog, you’ll know I have no problem with sex scenes. However, I think these should be used to empower the story/character relationships/plot points. Blush uses them as plot points.

It felt like every time I turned the page, they were going at it again. There was no character growth in the first fifty pages. Instead, Cruz has an interior monologue about how he should complete his assignment and move on. Then Amelia walks in the room, and all bets are off.

Maybe Blush got better as it went, but after fifty pages of sex scenes, I was ready to DNF.

Wrap-Up | The Latest DNFsFallen by Karin Slaughter
Series: Will Trent,
Publisher: Arrow, June 2012
Pages: 496

Special Agent Faith Mitchell returns home to a nightmare. Her baby daughter Emma has been locked outside, and there's a trail of blood to the front door.

Without waiting for back-up, Faith enters the house. Inside a man lies dead in a pool of blood. Most worrying of all, her mother is missing.

When the Atlanta police arrive, Faith has some difficult questions to answer. But she has some desperate questions of her own. What were the killers searching for? And where is her mother?

Suspended from duty, Faith turns to her work partner, Will Trent. Together he and Sara Linton must piece together the fragments of a brutal and complicated case, and catch a vicious murderer with only one thing on his mind.

To keep on killing until the truth is finally revealed.

Police procedurals are my guilty pleasure this year. The complex relationships between the characters, the horrible crimes, the question of whether to stick by the book…I’m all about it.

Yet Karin Slaughter’s Fallen didn’t have that same magic for me. Maybe it was coming in on the fifth book of the Will Trent series instead of the first, but I couldn’t get past the first fifty pages and this book ended up on the DNF pile. I wanted to like it (love it, actually), but the characters weren’t there to draw me in. Instead, I found myself reading the same passages over and reaching for different books on my nightstand over this one.

 Stars

Posted May 17, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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April 27, 2017

Review | Broken Harbor by Tana French

Review | Broken Harbor by Tana FrenchBroken Harbor by Tana French
Series: Dublin Murder Squad, #4
Publisher: Viking, July 2012
Pages: 450
Format: Hardcover
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The mesmerizing fourth novel of the Dublin murder squad by New York Times bestselling author Tana French
Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy, the brash cop from Tana French’s bestselling Faithful Place, plays by the book and plays hard. That’s what’s made him the Murder squad’s top detective—and that’s what puts the biggest case of the year into his hands.

On one of the half-built, half-abandoned "luxury" developments that litter Ireland, Patrick Spain and his two young children are dead. His wife, Jenny, is in intensive care.

At first, Scorcher and his rookie partner, Richie, think it’s going to be an easy solve. But too many small things can’t be explained. The half dozen baby monitors, their cameras pointing at holes smashed in the Spains’ walls. The files erased from the Spains’ computer. The story Jenny told her sister about a shadowy intruder who was slipping past all the locks.

And Broken Harbor holds memories for Scorcher. Seeing the case on the news sends his sister Dina off the rails again, and she’s resurrecting something that Scorcher thought he had tightly under control: what happened to their family one summer at Broken Harbor, back when they were children.

With her signature blend of police procedural and psychological thriller, French’s new novel goes full throttle with a heinous crime, creating her most complicated detective character and her best book yet.

A home invasion in a small seaside town in Britain leaves a family destroyed. For any other murder detective, this case might be too much to handle, but for murder detective Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy, it’s his job. But when the case starts to bring back painful personal memories, Mick wonders if it’s time to throw in the towel…or work harder than ever to catch the killer.

Heading to the wanna-be luxury complex of Broken Harbor to investigate a brutal murder isn’t easy for any detective, but for Scorcher, it’s especially painful. That’s what makes him a winner in French’s fourth Dublin Murder Squad installment: he’s a naturally complex character. By-the-book on the job, caught in a family conflict, and unsure of where his life is headed next, Scorcher isn’t just any old cop. It’s this complex perspective that makes Broken Harbor so compelling to read.

I loved the interactions between Scorcher, his rookie partner, the ME, and the rest of the crew. Each has such memorable personalities that complement Mick and the plot itself perfectly. French weaves each character interaction, step and motivation so deliberately that you don’t realize the masterfulness of her work until the back cover closes.

To say Broken Harbor kept me on my toes is an understatement. There was never a dull moment from the first moment Scorcher and Richie step into the blood-splattered house to the final page. It was the constant conflicts that come with everyday life –  problems with coworkers, family fights, broken hearts – combined with the powerful of mystery of just who did it that brought this police procedural to life like few books I’ve read before.

For me, Broken Harbor is a definitely a winner, and one I can’t wait to read again. Have you read any of French’s Dublin Murder Squad? Which one should I read next?

4 Stars

Posted April 27, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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April 26, 2017

Mini Reviews | Historical Fiction

Mini Reviews | Historical FictionThe Dressmaker's War by Mary Chamberlain
Publisher: Random House, January 2016
Pages: 304

In London, 1939, Ada Vaughan is a young woman with an unusual dressmaking skill, and dreams of a better life for herself. That life seems to arrive when Stanislaus, an Austrian aristocrat, sweeps Ada off her feet and brings her to Paris. When war breaks out, Stanislaus vanishes, and Ada is taken prisoner by the Germans, she must do everything she can to survive: by becoming dressmaker to the Nazi wives. Abandoned and alone as war rages, the choices Ada makes will come to back to haunt her years later, as the truth of her experience is twisted and distorted after the war. From glamorous London hotels and Parisian cafes to the desperation of wartime Germany, here is a mesmerizing, richly textured historical novel, a story of heartbreak, survival and ambition, of the nature of truth, and the untold story of what happens to women during war.

During my latest historical fiction kick, I wanted to love this book so dearly. The cover was so beautiful and the story sounded so intriguing…but it was utterly uninspiring. Ada’s childish tendencies made her appear selfish and ignorant. While this would have been a great launching pad for her growth into a fantastic character, the character development was overshadowed by the powerful historical backdrop. In the end, Ada faded into the background instead of helping to tell the story of World War II.

 

Mini Reviews | Historical FictionMemoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Publisher: Vintage, January 1970
Pages: 434

A literary sensation and runaway bestseller, this brilliant debut novel presents with seamless authenticity and exquisite lyricism the true confessions of one of Japan's most celebrated geisha.
In Memoirs of a Geisha, we enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl's virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion. It is a unique and triumphant work of fiction—at once romantic, erotic, suspenseful—and completely unforgettable.

I’ve always heard excellent reviews about Memoirs of a Geisha and after finally reading it, I understand why. The powerful narration made it easy to hear the difference between the storyteller’s past and present, even the narrator’s occasional interjections. Combined with the fascinating history and culture of the geisha and a compelling main character, I can see why this book is a winner again and again.

 

Mini Reviews | Historical FictionThe Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester
Publisher: Pegasus Books, March 2016
Pages: 512

London, 1912.
The suffragette movement is reaching a fever pitch, and Inspector Frederick Primrose is hunting a murderer on his beat. Across town, Fleet Street reporter Frances “Frankie” George is chasing an interview with trapeze artist Ebony Diamond. Frankie finds herself fascinated by the tightly-laced acrobat and follows her to a Kensington corset shop that seems to be hiding secrets of its own. When Ebony Diamond mysteriously disappears in the middle of a performance, Frankie and Primrose are both drawn into the shadowy world of a secret society with ties to both London's criminal underworld and its glittering socialites.
How did Ebony vanish, who was she afraid of, and what goes on behind the doors of the mysterious Hourglass Factory? From newsrooms to the drawing rooms of high society, the investigation leads Frankie and Primrose to a murderous villain with a plot more deadly than anyone could have imagined.

In the midst of the girl power era, I’ve fallen in love with the suffragettes. These women turned convention on its head so we can work, vote, and be ourselves. So, therefore I wanted to love The Hourglass Factory just as much, but it wasn’t in the cards.

The novel started out strong enough with a vibrant atmosphere built out of beautiful attention to detail and descriptive that dropped me in the middle of London. The main character of Frankie was engaging, inspiring, and familiar. She’s the underdog you want to cheer for. But it started to take too long for anything to happen. Overwhelmed by minor characters grabbing possession of the story, The Hourglass Factory quickly lost its way.

 

Mini Reviews | Historical FictionThe Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel
Series: Empress of Bright Moon,
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark, March 2016
Pages: 395

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.
The first volume of the Empress of Bright Moon duology 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.

Thank goodness for GoodReads’ annual book contest, or I would miss gems like The Moon in the Palace. I loved the insight into another historical era I’d never heard of before. Together with the powerhouse of a main character, the dynamic Mei (later known as Wu Zetian or Empress Consort Wu), The Moon in the Palace is a must for historical fiction fans, whether or not you’re interested in Chinese history. Between the historical backdrop, the forbidden love, or the astounding atmosphere that dropped you into Mei’s shoes, you’ll find something to love.

 

Mini Reviews | Historical FictionMr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
Series: Maggie Hope Mystery,
Publisher: Bantam, April 2012
Pages: 358

London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for codebreaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined—and opportunities she will not let pass. In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history.
Ensnared in a web of spies, murder, and intrigue, Maggie must work quickly to balance her duty to King and Country with her chances for survival. And when she unravels a mystery that points toward her own family’s hidden secrets, she’ll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin’s murderous plan and Churchill himself.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary should be a great book. Set in WWII London, it follows American-British Maggie Hope as she works for Prime Minister Churchill in the early to mid days of the war. Sounds like a winner, right? Yet behind the historical drama of England in the midst of the war, I finished the book with a wanting feeling. It had a good premise, mostly good execution, so what was missing? My vote? The passion in the characters. They were all right, but with a bit of a push, they could have been excellent.

Posted April 26, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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March 27, 2017

Review | Her Darkest Nightmare by Brenda Novak

Review | Her Darkest Nightmare by Brenda NovakHer Darkest Nightmare by Brenda Novak
Series: The Evelyn Talbot Chronicles, #1
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks, August 2016
Pages: 407
Format: Paperback
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

THE HUNT FOR A SERIAL KILLER
Evelyn Talbot knows that a psychopath can look perfectly normal. She was only sixteen when her own boyfriend Jasper imprisoned and tortured her—and left her for dead. Now an eminent psychiatrist who specializes in the criminal mind, Evelyn is the force behind Hanover House, a maximum-security facility located in a small Alaskan town. Her job puts her at odds with Sergeant Amarok, who is convinced that Hanover is a threat to his community…even as his attraction to beautiful Evelyn threatens to tear his world apart.

BEGINS WITH AN ESCAPE FROM HER PAST
Then, just as the bitter Alaskan winter cuts both town and prison off from the outside world, the mutilated body of a local woman turns up. For Amarok, this is the final proof he needs: Hanover has to go. Evelyn, though, has reason to fear that the crime is a personal message to her—the first sign that the killer who haunts her dreams has found her again. . .and that the life she has so carefully rebuilt will never be the same…

Despite her career working in the insane asylum, Evelyn Talbot thinks her darkest nightmare is behind her. She survived brutal torture and imprisonment at the hands of her high school boyfriend (after he killed her best friends in cold blood) and rebuilt her life to study those who can’t resist the call of the kill. But when asylum staff and townspeople from the small Alaskan town start to go missing, Evelyn fears the worst: her past is back to haunt her.

Here’s the thing about Her Darkest Nightmare: it has all the elements to be an insanely (no pun intended) creepy, heartstoppingly thrilling, breathtakingly romantic story. But it isn’t. Why? Evelyn.

Evelyn had so many issues. Granted, yes, she had a terrible event in her teenage years that would haunt anyone for the rest of their God-given days. Yes, she pulled herself together pretty well. But it’s the massive amounts of neurosis coupled with an unsympathetic, flat character that takes all the wind out of the story’s sails.

She can’t date Amarok, the cute Alaska State Trooper, because he’s younger than she is. I don’t know quite where that one came from – it’s never really explained except she’s afraid of being judged. She can’t be alone. Okay, this one makes sense, especially in the Alaskan wilderness. But then why on earth do you build a cottage on the edge of town with an unreliable snow car (a BMW, for heaven’s sake) and then whine when you can’t get home? She can’t connect well with others in the town/the asylum. Again, okay – she’s had some traumatic experiences. But she whimpers (there’s really no other word for it) whenever someone looks at her funny. When she does grow a backbone and stand up for herself, it’s so out of character that the whole story seemed off.

The reason the character development was so sorely lacking lay at the door of one key element: the dialogue. It was forced, awkward, and kept pulling me out of the story. I was keenly aware I was reading words on a page, not enveloped in a world of snow, sexy troopers, and murderous psychopaths.

Amaork had the most promise but he too suffered from Her Darkest Nightmare‘s stilted dialogue. I wanted MORE, more PASSION, more FIRE, more THRILL. And ended up turning this book back into the library early.

Novak’s latest just didn’t measure up for me. Maybe I’ll stick to her contemporary romances.

2 Stars

Posted March 27, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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March 25, 2017

Weekend Reading | 03.25.17

Thank goodness it’s finally the weekend! Heading back to work after the honeymoon was trickier than I expected, so all I want to do today is drink coffee and read. You too? Fab. Here’s some of the top stories and post from the past week to enjoy with your first (or second or third) cup o’joe.

Cheers to the weekend! What are your big plans?

Posted March 25, 2017 by Ellen in weekend reading / 0 Comments
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March 24, 2017

Review | Dream Lake by Lisa Kleypas

Review | Dream Lake by Lisa KleypasDream Lake by Lisa Kleypas
Series: Friday Harbor, #3
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin, August 2012
Pages: 374
Format: Paperback
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

They say that opposites attract. But what happens when one of them has been devastated by betrayal and the other is so damaged and jaded that his heart is made of stone? In New York Times bestselling author Lisa Kleypas's Dream Lake, readers well enter the world of Friday Harbor, an enchanting town in the Pacific Northwest where things are not quite as they seem and where true love might just have a ghost of a chance. . . .
Alex Nolan is about as bitter and cynical as they come. One of three Nolan brothers who call Friday Harbor home, he's nothing like Sam or Mark. They actually believe in love; they think the risk of pain is worth the chance of happiness. But Alex battles his demons with the help of a whiskey bottle, and he lives in his own private hell. And then, a ghost shows up. Only Alex can see him. Has Alex finally crossed over the threshold to insanity?
Zoë Hoffman is as gentle and romantic as they come. When she meets the startlingly gorgeous Alex Nolan, all her instincts tell her to run. Even Alex tells her to run. But something in him calls to Zoë, and she forces him to take a look at his life with a clear eye and to open his mind to the possibility that love isn't for the foolish.
The ghost has been existing in the half-light of this world for decades. He doesn't know who he is, or why he is stuck in the Nolans' Victorian house. All he knows is that he loved a girl once. And Alex and Zoë hold the key to unlocking a mystery that keeps him trapped here.
Zoë and Alex are oil and water, fire and ice, sunshine and shadow. But sometimes it takes only a glimmer of light to chase away the dark, and sometimes love can reach beyond time, space, and reason to take hold of hearts that yearn for it. . . .

Dream Lake’s Alex Nolan is having a bad day.

Or rather, more like a bad couple months.

Okay, a bad year. His wife has left him and is kicking him out the house to put it up for sale. His construction business is floundering because rumors of his drinking are spreading. He can’t get his mind off the beautiful chef at the B&B and, oh yeah: he’s being haunted.

On the surface, Dream Lake‘s romantic plotline is fairly predictable. Broken man finds loving woman to heal his wounds. I’m okay with that. In fact, I’ve even a fan of the cookie cutter plot because it allows so much room for creativity. And Kleypas has plenty of creativity, namely the ghost.

The ghost is a unique plot twist. He has no idea who is he, why he seems to be tied to the house (then Alex), or if he can move on to the next life. In short, he’s the perfect foil for grumpy, defensive Alex, who would probably throw a hammer at your head if you looked at him funny.

Yet the ghost isn’t enough to make Dream Lake memorable. His story alone? Fabulous. Intertwined with the fairly mundane and – dare I say it? – predictable romance between Alex and Zoe (aforementioned loving woman)? It’s not enough.

The thing about Zoe and Alex is that they weren’t exciting. There wasn’t a new tweak to the stereotypical characters, aside from Alex being haunted. Alex is mean to Zoe, Alex kisses Zoe, Zoe cooks for Alex, and here we are.

From Kleypas’ past books, I expected more. More zing, more banter, deeper characters. With that, Dream Lake could have been great. As is, it’s okay.

3 Stars

Posted March 24, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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