Tag: Three Stars

October 12, 2017

Review | Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey

Review | Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin DickeyGhostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey
Publisher: Viking, October 2016
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
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An intellectual feast for fans of offbeat history, Ghostland takes readers on a road trip through some of the country's most infamously haunted places--and deep into the dark side of our history.

Colin Dickey is on the trail of America's ghosts. Crammed into old houses and hotels, abandoned prisons and empty hospitals, the spirits that linger continue to capture our collective imagination, but why? His own fascination piqued by a house hunt in Los Angeles that revealed derelict foreclosures and "zombie homes," Dickey embarks on a journey across the continental United States to decode and unpack the American history repressed in our most famous haunted places. Some have established reputations as "the most haunted mansion in America," or "the most haunted prison"; others, like the haunted Indian burial grounds in West Virginia, evoke memories from the past our collective nation tries to forget.

With boundless curiosity, Dickey conjures the dead by focusing on questions of the living--how do we, the living, deal with stories about ghosts, and how do we inhabit and move through spaces that have been deemed, for whatever reason, haunted? Paying attention not only to the true facts behind a ghost story, but also to the ways in which changes to those facts are made--and why those changes are made--Dickey paints a version of American history left out of the textbooks, one of things left undone, crimes left unsolved. Spellbinding, scary, and wickedly insightful, Ghostland discovers the past we're most afraid to speak of aloud in the bright light of day is the same past that tends to linger in the ghost stories we whisper in the dark.

Even if the paranormal isn’t your cup of tea, there’s no denying a certain mystical element to American history. From the haunted streets of Salem to the plains of the Native American nations, there’s a piercing awareness that we’re not alone. Colin Dickey’s Ghostland was meant to tell this story.

I say “meant” intentionally. Dickey divvied up his book first into different types of ghost stories (graveyards, cities, etc.), then into various locations within each category. I was thrilled. Usually, I’m not a big paranormal fan, but the prospect of combining my recent love for true crime (thanks to My Favorite Murder) and our newfound desire to travel America, I was hooked. The chapter that sealed the deal? New Orleans. I went to the Big Easy a year ago for work, so I can’t wait to go back with M.

But I digress…

I was hoping Ghostland would tell me the ghost stories of America, paired with the unique history of each, and leave me marking my travel map with must-sees. Instead, Dickey dissects each tale with a faintly condescending academia, implying how people are crazy for not looking at these stories in a coherent light.

Sure, finding out the truth about the secret staircase in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s home, House of Seven Gables, was fascinating. Unique. Defined America’s perception of not only the house but the author. But I wanted the story, not the analytics.

Chapter after chapter, story after story, Dickey analyzed each tale to death (no pun intended) so that I began skipping his critiques and read the short paragraph telling the story, then researching it on Wikipedia.

So why three stars? Because Dickey was honest about the book’s focus. I had built it up in my mind to be more than it was. His versions of the stories were engaging and fascinating, inspiring me to search them out for myself.

If you’re looking for tales about haunted America, I’d suggest looking elsewhere. But if you are hoping for a realistic perception and critical analysis of America’s ghost stories, Ghostland is for you.

3 Stars

Posted October 12, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 6, 2017

Review | Vienna Waltz by Teresa Grant

Review | Vienna Waltz by Teresa GrantVienna Waltz by Teresa Grant
Series: Rannoch/Fraser Publication Order, #4
Publisher: Kensington, April 2011
Pages: 436
Format: Paperback
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Nothing is fair in love and war. . .

Europe's elite have gathered at the glittering Congress of Vienna--princes, ambassadors, the Russian tsar--all negotiating the fate of the continent by day and pursuing pleasure by night. Until Princess Tatiana, the most beautiful and talked about woman in Vienna, is found murdered during an ill-timed rendezvous with three of her most powerful conquests. . .

Suzanne Rannoch has tried to ignore rumors that her new husband, Malcolm, has also been tempted by Tatiana. As a protégé of France's Prince Talleyrand and attaché for Britain's Lord Castlereagh, Malcolm sets out to investigate the murder and must enlist Suzanne's special skills and knowledge if he is to succeed. As a complex dance between husband and wife in the search for the truth ensues, no one's secrets are safe, and the future of Europe may hang in the balance. . .

Realistically, there’s no way to learn the entire history of the world in the typical K-12, four-year college education. I get that. But when I come across historical events like the Congress of Vienna, portrayed in Teresa Grant’s Vienna Waltz, I wish we could.

A little background

From November 1814 to June 1815, Europe’s latest and greatest met in Vienna to work together to create peace in the war-torn continent. Among them were Austria, Britain, France, and Russia. One can only imagine the drama.

 

One like Grant. Her Vienna Waltz opens with the tsar’s paramour, Princess Tatiana, is found murdered in her apartments, Suzanne and Malcolm Rannoch, British attache, find themselves on the hunt for the killer. Haunted by their own rocky marriage of convenience, a building attraction, the whispers of Malcolm’s relationship with Tatiana, and not to mention the monumental task of navigating through sticky social situations, their mission is far from easy.

The dance has, in other words, begun.

Vienna Waltz would have caught my attention regardless, due to the prospect of a new piece of history to discover. But it was the drama, the need to know just how Malcolm and Suzanne turned out, that kept me reading. With the massive amount of characters that stole the spotlight, their story kept the novel grounded.

Unfortunately, like so many historical fiction novels, Vienna Waltz fell victim to the dreaded info dumping. Some details helped portray the atmosphere, the setting, the mood. But others became too much and, instead of bringing the story to light, weighed it down.

For those who like a little bit of intrigue with their history, Vienna Waltz will hit the spot.

3 Stars

Posted October 6, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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June 21, 2017

Wrap Up! The Latest Romance

Format: Ebook, Paperback
Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceThe Billionaire and the Virgin (Billionaires and Bridesmaids, #1) by Jessica Clare
Pages: 250

The Billionaire and the Virgin appeals to a very select group of people. But for me, the excessive sex scenes overwhelmed the romance of the Beauty and the Beast retelling that I was so looking forward to. Clare’s treatment of her hero, a man scarred physically and emotionally, was the only saving grace.

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceLove in the Afternoon (The Hathaways, #5) by Lisa Kleypas

Kleypas’ wacky Hathaway family holds a special place in my heart and, luckily, Beatrix’s story is up to that standard. Genuinely sweet and funny, Love in the Afternoon is a great romance for a long summer afternoon. The only drawback? Beatrix’s childlike nature didn’t always lend well to romantic situations.

 

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceThe Boy Is Back (Boy, #4) by Meg Cabot
Pages: 400

The queen of contemporary romance is back! Cabot’s unique narrative – created from IMs, text messages and emails – fits the hilariously sweet story of Becky and the one-that-got-away, pro golfer Reed Stewart.

 

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceIrresistibly Yours (Oxford, #1) by Lauren Layne
Pages: 236

This spicy contemporary romance blurs the line between workplace friendships and irresistable chemistry. Loved the complex characters and the plot’s determination to keep throwing them together.

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceSeven Minutes in Heaven (Desperate Duchesses by the Numbers, #3; Desperate Duchesses, #9) by Eloisa James
Pages: 404

Ranks among the most stilted, obvious historical romances I’ve read. So much potential in the master of the house/strict governess dynamic, but the borderline predictability and the dull characters drained all the passion.

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceThe Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata

I’ve been on a sports romance kick lately, but The Wall of Winnepeg had one major fault: the narration. A potentially fun story (a football player opens his eyes to finally see what’s always been in front of him) is ruined by the dragging narrative.

 

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceSustained (The Legal Briefs, #2) by Emma Chase
Pages: 267

LOVED this! Cold, rough and tough lawyer Jake gets caught up with a gorgeous woman who has adopted her suddenly orphaned nieces and nephews. Sustained spins together a heartwarming family story, a heroic journey, and a fabulous romance into one neat package.

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceBecause of Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys, #1) by Julia Quinn
Pages: 375

Cute historical romance with a flaw: Billie Bridgerton was practically perfect in every way. All joking aside, the constant fawning over the heroine made her unrealistic and caused the rest of the story to fall apart.

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceRun to You (Military Men #2) by Rachel Gibson
Pages: 384

An interesting premise – Florida bartender gets caught up in the mob’s crosshairs and is reluctantly saved by a former Marine – can’t get off the ground. Why? Stella’s constant whining drove me insane. I was tempted to knock her out myself if she said “I’m going to pass out,” one more time.

Posted June 21, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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June 17, 2017

Review | The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

Review | The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. PearsonThe Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
Series: The Remnant Chronicles #1
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co., July 2014
Pages: 486
Format: Hardcover
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A princess must find her place in a reborn world.

She flees on her wedding day.

She steals ancient documents from the Chancellor's secret collection.

She is pursued by bounty hunters sent by her own father.

She is Princess Lia, seventeen, First Daughter of the House of Morrighan.

The Kingdom of Morrighan is steeped in tradition and the stories of a bygone world, but some traditions Lia can't abide. Like having to marry someone she's never met to secure a political alliance.

Fed up and ready for a new life, Lia flees to a distant village on the morning of her wedding. She settles in among the common folk, intrigued when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deceptions swirl and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—secrets that may unravel her world—even as she feels herself falling in love.

All too often, fantasy books fall into a cookie cutter plot: girl runs away, boy chases her, magic happens, they save the day. The Kiss of Deception isn’t one of those books.

To start, the girl’s motive for running away is a good one. Princess Lia is moments away from an arranged marriage to a prince she’s never met and would rather not, thankyouverymuch. Her decision to run when the opportunity presents itself instead of dithering about whether or not she should (something I would do), won me over. She’s quick, decisive, but yet ultimately, a sheltered princess.

She’s quick, decisive, but yet, in the end, a sheltered princess. Her intent is good, but her experience outside the palace walls is limited. I liked that Pearson didn’t try to shield that side of her protagonist. Instead of expecting everyone to jump at her whim, Lia rolls up her sleeves and pitches in. A working, warrior princess is my kind of gal.

I’ve mentioned it before, and I will likely say it again, but I’m no fan of love triangles. However, in The Kiss of Deception, it worked. I would have been just fine without it, mind you, but Pearson’s treatment of the plot device fit it well into the story, instead of throwing it in to make a little more drama. It hooked me in and even now, I can’t wait for The Heart of Betrayal to arrive at the library SO I CAN FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED.

For me, that right there is why The Kiss of Deception is a winner. Sure, it had ups and downs. Sure, the narrative dragged a bit. But it’s that driving urge, that need to know what happened to these characters that I can’t help but cheer for, that will keep me hooked on this series long after I’ve finished.

4 Stars

Posted June 17, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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June 16, 2017

Review | Sparking the Fire by Kate Meador

Review | Sparking the Fire by Kate MeadorSparking the Fire by Kate Meader
Series: Hot in Chicago #3
Publisher: Pocket Books, September 2016
Format: Paperback
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Actor Molly Cade, America’s fallen sweetheart, finally has her shot at a Hollywood comeback with a dramatic new role as a tough-as-nails firefighter that promises to propel her back to the big time and restore her self-respect. Wyatt Fox, resident daredevil at Engine Co. 6, needs a low-key job to keep him busy while he recovers from his latest rescue stunt. Consulting on a local movie shoot should add just enough spark to his day. Especially when in struts Molly Cade: the woman who worked his heart over good, and then left him in the Windy City dust.

Their story is straight out of a script: irrepressible, spunky heroine meets taciturn, smoldering hero. But these two refuse to be typecast, and when the embers of an old love are stoked, someone is bound to get burned…

Sparking the Fire is the kind of book I pack for a beach weekend, long lazy afternoons in the park, or when I need a brain break. It’s got romance, wit, a coming-of-age story, and female empowerment. Plus a hot firefighter. What’s not to love?

America’s sweetheart Molly Cade is trying to pull her life back together after her very personal photos were leaked on the internet and this acting role looks like just the place to relaunch her career, and her life. But when Wyatt Fox, the man she had an intense, short-lived affair strides onto the set, her dreams for an easy comeback professionally shatter…that is, if she can keep her personal life out of the equation.

Molly could have been easily overwhelmed by Wyatt’s dominant, he-man (I say that in the best way possible) personality. He’s quiet, intense, guarded, and a little sarcastic. He’s used to getting his way and not arguing about it. Lucky for him (and the Sparking the Fire plot), Molly isn’t used to yielding just because someone else said so. This fire creates the chemistry that makes Meador’s third book in the series so much fun to read.

I loved all the side plots weaved into the story. Wyatt’s niece plays a significant role in his life: aside from helping to soften the he-man (again, best intentions) characteristic, she provides the foil to Molly’s own major life decisions. It’s a coming-of-age/rebuilding life story that brings the novel together.

Frankly, it’s weird to write this with my love of hot romance scenes, but the ones in Sparking the Fire were a little too much for me. Or unexpected? Maybe there were more unexpected. I didn’t expect the frequency of the hot-and-heavy scenes. Sometimes, it felt like they were supporting the plot, not all of the other fantastic elements Meador built into the story.

Either way, Sparking the Fire was a fun, quick read that I’d definitely grab again…that is, after I finish the rest of the Hot in Chicago series.

 

3 Stars

Posted June 16, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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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 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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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 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
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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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January 9, 2017

Review | The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Review | The Fate of the Tearling by Erika JohansenThe Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Series: The Queen of the Tearling, #3
Publisher: Harper, November 2016
Pages: 478
Format: Hardcover
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

In less than a year, Kelsea Glynn has grown from an awkward teenager into a powerful monarch and a visionary leader.
And as she has come into her own as the Queen of the Tearling, she has transformed her realm. But in her quest to end corruption and restore justice, she has made many enemies - chief among them the evil and feared Red Queen, who ordered the armies of Mortmesne to march against the Tear and crush them.
To protect her people from such a devastating invasion, Kelsea did the unthinkable - naming the Mace, the trusted head of her personal guards, Regent in her place, she surrendered herself and her magical sapphires to her enemy. But the Mace will not rest until he and his men rescue their sovereign from her prison in Mortmesne.
So, the endgame has begun and the fate of Queen Kelsea - and the Tearling itself - will be revealed...
With The Fate of the Tearling, Erika Johansen draws her unforgettable story full of magic and adventure to a thrilling close.

I have extremely mixed feeling about The Fate of the Tearling. One one hand, I loved it. On the other, well, let me explain.

In the first two books of the Tearling trilogy, Kelsea discovers that she is not just an ordinary girl – she’s the queen. As she grows into both herself and her reign, the Tearling faces an impending threat from Mortmesne, the terrifying country ruled by the Red Queen. Together with her second in command, the Mace, and her loyal guards, Kelsea takes the reins as she prepares her peaceful, utopian country for the fight of its life.

Kelsea herself goes through a tremendous transformation throughout the trilogy. She’s always a little rough, a little blunt, but she evolves from an uncertain girl into a strong young woman. That’s not to say she doesn’t have her insecurities; those moments of uncertainties are what reminds us of her humanity in Fate. It’s the moments she’s presented with an obvious choice in Fate that made me fall in love with her character even more.

Yet Johansen makes sure that Kelsea isn’t the end-all of the series. The side plots and more minor characters are powerful enough to carry the divided narrative of Fate, even occasionally making me wish they had more page time. Johansen made it clear that Fate isn’t just Kelsea’s story – it’s the Tearling’s.

I loved that Johansen makes room to tell the Tearling’s history, but as continued, I felt a little confused. Instead of the high fantasy I expected, Fate verged more into an alternate reality. There was talk of Boston, modern medicine, and other things common in today’s society, but unexpected in a world of swords, medieval battles and magic. The alternative timeline threw me, and I couldn’t quite get back on track.

That same disjointedness continued throughout the end of Fate. Instead of the ending I expected (even hoped for), Johansen threw us for a loop and closed out Kelsea’s story in an entirely unexpected way. Personally, I wasn’t a fan: it left me with more questions than answers, and I felt lost without certain plot closures. This unusual ending dropped my review from what could have been four or five stars to three.

What do you think of the ending? Did it fit the storyline? Or were you expecting the more traditional ending?

3 Stars

Posted January 9, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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