Book Review: The Shards of Heaven by Michael Livingston

Book Review: The Shards of Heaven by Michael LivingstonThe Shards of Heaven by Michael Livingston
Series: The Shards of Heaven #1
Published by Tor on November 24, 2015
Genres: Alternate Universe, Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Pages: 416
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
1 Stars
The beginning of an epic historical fantasy that rocks the foundations of the ancient world

Julius Caesar is dead, assassinated on the senate floor, and the glory that is Rome has been torn in two. Octavian, Caesar’s ambitious great-nephew and adopted son, vies with Marc Antony and Cleopatra for control of Caesar’s legacy. As civil war rages from Rome to Alexandria, and vast armies and navies battle for supremacy, a secret conflict may shape the course of history.

Juba, Numidian prince and adopted brother of Octavian, has embarked on a ruthless quest for the Shards of Heaven, lost treasures said to possess the very power of the gods—or the one God. Driven by vengeance, Juba has already attained the fabled Trident of Poseidon, which may also be the staff once wielded by Moses. Now he will stop at nothing to obtain the other Shards, even if it means burning the entire world to the ground.

Caught up in these cataclysmic events, and the hunt for the Shards, are a pair of exiled Roman legionnaires, a Greek librarian of uncertain loyalties, assassins, spies, slaves . . . and the ten-year-old daughter of Cleopatra herself.

The Shards of Heaven reveals the hidden magic behind the history we know, and commences a war greater than any mere mortal battle.

Book Review:

I’m a big fan of alternate history, so I was excited to start THE SHARDS OF HEAVEN after reading its summary. Octavian and Juba and magic artifacts? Unfortunately, the book didn’t work for me, and I struggled to finish it.

THE SHARDS OF HEAVEN never reeled me in. There was no hook for me, maybe because it anytime important information was related, such as information about the Trident, it took place off the page. Only near the end of the book do we learn what a “shard of heaven is,” after being repeatedly teased. I really dislike when authors hide information from the reader over and over. There’s also a bit too much religious talk for me. Maybe I should have expected from the title, but I was still surprised to see it and read so much of it.

Most of the characters read as 2D instead of being fully fleshed out. Cleopatra is extremely beautiful and dramatic. Caesarion can do no wrong. Selene is feisty and adventurous. And so on. The only characters that read as real to me were two soldiers, Vorenus and Pullo. As for everyone else, I felt like they were plodding along, serving the story rather than being characters. However, I’m a character-driven reader.

THE SHARDS OF HEAVEN ended up being a forgettable book for me. One that I only pushed myself to finish because I was reviewing; if I’d read it for pleasure, I would have set it down after the first few chapters because of the slow pacing and dull storytelling.

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Michael Livingston:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Darkling Child by Terry Brooks

Book Review: The Darkling Child by Terry BrooksThe Darkling Child by Terry Brooks
Series: The Defenders of Shannara #2
Published by Del Rey on June 9, 2015
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 300
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
1 Stars
After taking up his enchanted sword against the dark sorcerer Arcannen, Paxon Leah has become the sworn protector of the Druid order. Now a critical hour is at hand, as a beloved High Druid nears the end of her reign and prepares to pass from the mortal world to the one beyond. There is little time for Paxon to mourn his friend and benefactor before duty summons him. For in a distant corner of the Four Lands, the magic of the wishsong has been detected. Paxon must accompany a Druid emissary to find its source—and ensure the formidable power is not wielded by the wrong hands.

But danger is already afoot in the village of Portlow. Gentle traveling minstrel Reyn Frosch possesses the uncanny gift, and curse, of the wishsong. And now his coveted abilities have captured the malevolent interest of none other than Arcannen—whose quest for power is exceeded only by his thirst for vengeance. The lone survivor of a brutal assault on a notorious pirate city, the sorcerer is determined to retaliate against the Federation’s elite military guard—and use the devastating power of the wishsong as his ultimate weapon.

Book Review:

Even though I’m a huge fantasy fan, I’ve never read any Shannara books. I have read most of Brooks’ Magic Kingdom of Landover series and liked them, but I never knew where to start with Shannara because there are so many. THE DARKLING CHILD, the second in the Defenders of Shannara trilogy, is supposed to be a standalone, and a good entry point for new readers.

After reading THE DARKLING CHILD, I have no interest in reading any other books in the Shannara series. I struggled to get through this book, and wondered more than once how Brooks is so popular. Maybe his work has decreased in quality over the years, because THE DARKLING CHILD? Substandard fantasy. I really felt like the author was trying to hit a certain page count and that was it.

I don’t even know where to start, other than to say I can’t remember much of the book, and I finished it a day ago. I was tempted to put THE DARKLING CHILD down after the first few chapters, but I know fantasy can have a slow pace to start, so I gave it a chance. But I wish I didn’t, because this book was a slog to get through.

I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re new to Shannara, because other than explaining the origin of wishsong, there’s no real worldbuilding. I don’t know what the Federation is, what the druids do, etc. There are also references to the first book in this trilogy, THE HIGH DRUID’S BLADE, but those weren’t as bad as the shoddy writing, YA-style romances, predictable story, and lack of women other than as plot devices.

After my dismal experience with THE DARKLING CHILD, I won’t be returning to Shannara.

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Terry Brooks:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Call by Peadar O’Guilin

Book Review: The Call by Peadar O’GuilinThe Call by Peadar O'Guilin
Published by Scholastic on August 30, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
1 Stars
You have three minutes to save your life...

THREE MINUTES

You wake up alone in a horrible land. A horn sounds. The Call has begun.

TWO MINUTES

The Sidhe are close. They're the most beautiful and terrible people you've ever seen. And they've seen you.

ONE MINUTE

Nessa will be Called soon. No one thinks she has any chance to survive. But she's determined to prove them wrong.

TIME'S UP

Could you survive the Call?

Book Review:

I tend to enjoy books where the Sidhe are as creepy as they are in the old legends. Wicked, magical, and ruthless, the Sidhe in THE CALL have isolated Ireland and turned it into their own personal hunting ground. Only 1 in 10 teenagers survive the Call, when they are sucked into the Grey Land for a day, or three minutes and four seconds on Earth.

But THE CALL wasn’t a book for me. It was one I struggled to finish. The biggest reason the book didn’t work for me is that I’m a character driven reader, and I just didn’t care about any of the characters at all. I can barely remember most of their names. Nessa did stand out slightly, because she has polio but didn’t let it stop her even though everyone else thought she was useless. Everyone else, though, meh. I have to care about the people I’m reading about, but the author didn’t succeed in making me worry about anyone or care about them. Even when a character was killed, I just wanted to see what new gruesome way they’d die.

I also really disliked the whole Conor obsessing/wanting to hurt Nessa thing, because I am so sick of guys wanting to do horrible things to girls because their obsession isn’t returned. I also didn’t like how Nessa just kinda sat back and let her life be in danger from Conor because she wanted to see another boy she was crushing on. For a girl who wanted to survive so badly, it felt like she just sat back for a lot of the book.

The writing style in THE CALL also contributed to my lackluster feelings about it. It’s written present tense, third person, with some head jumping. Sometimes I wasn’t sure whose perspective I was in, so I’d have to go back and reread. Head jumping like that is a big peeve of mine.

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Peadar O’Guilin:
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– leeanna

Book Review: A Class Act by T.L. Hayes

Book Review: A Class Act by T.L. HayesA Class Act by TL Hayes
Published by Bold Strokes Books on August 1, 2016
Genres: LGBT, Romance
Pages: 240
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
1 Stars
Twenty-five-year-old theater grad student Rory Morgan walks into her Intro to Theater class expecting it to be a piece of cake. She isn’t prepared for the diminutive little fireball of a professor who walks in. She is instantly captivated by Dr. Margaret Parks, her forty-year-old professor, and even works up the courage to flirt a little, which Dr. Parks quickly dismisses. After their first class, Rory finds herself thinking about the professor more and more and spends most of her class time watching the professor as she passionately does her job. Rory really wants to ask her out, but she doesn’t know if the professor is even gay, to say nothing of the fact that she’s her professor. What follows is a romance full of humor, passionate awakenings, and college politics. Can they overcome the hurdles that lie before them and still be a class act?

Book Review:

I’m not always a fan of romance, but as A CLASS ACT has two of the tropes I do like (older/younger and professor/student), I thought I would like it. Combining the two should have resulted in a make-me-happy romance, but I just couldn’t get into this one.

I almost put A CLASS ACT down after the first few chapters. Rory is so judgmental of other women that I got sick of her thoughts very quickly. From the first chapter: “She always fell for good conversationalists who could challenge her on any given topic and who were not slaves to fashion and makeup.” It’s like her brain is full of stereotypes on how butches should think and act.

But throw all that aside, because Rory’s immediately attracted to her professor, Margaret Parks. By chapter two, Margaret’s noticing how attractive Rory is. Soon after that, Rory’s pursuing Margaret, and the rest is mostly history. But here’s the thing: I never felt any chemistry between Rory and Margaret. I could have been reading about two stick figures.

I wanted to like A CLASS ACT. I did. I even pushed through my initial “this isn’t for me” feeling and finally finished. But all I remember is the blah characters, insta-love romance, writing full of cliches and honeyed dialogue (Rory and Margaret refer to each other as “my love” 30+ times), and a lame conflict.

– leeanna

Book Review: Marked by Laura Williams McCaffrey

Book Review: Marked by  Laura Williams McCaffreyMarked by Laura Williams McCaffrey
Published by Clarion Books on February 16, 2016
Genres: Dystopian, Young Adult
Pages: 272
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
1 Stars
Sixteen-year-old Lyla lives in a bleak, controlling society where only the brightest and most favored students succeed. When she is caught buying cheats in an underground shadow market, she is tattooed—marked—as a criminal. Then she is offered redemption and she jumps at the chance . . . but it comes at a cost. Doing what is right means betraying the boy she has come to love, and, perhaps, losing even more than she thought possible. Graphic novel–style vignettes revealing the history of this world provide Lyla with guidance and clues to a possible way out of the double bind she finds herself in.

Book Review:

I finished MARKED about a few hours ago and I have almost no clue what I read. While the beginning is good, after Lyla’s Marking, the book meandered into “what the heck is going on here” territory for me.

To start, there’s a serious lack of worldbuilding. There are a few snippets of background information in the comic strip illustrations, but I had real trouble understanding Lyla’s world. Why do people live in primitive conditions, starving and freezing? What is Protean? I guess Protean was supposed to be some sort of energy superpower, but if society has it, why does most of the town not even have running water? It’s that sort of thing, especially when there’s no explanation, that keeps me from getting into a YA dystopia.

Second, there’s so much other confusing stuff. Much of the slang the characters use isn’t given any English equivalent. What’s slagging? Where did Merde come from? Miner’s Cough seemed like it would be important, but nothing came of it. There was a lack of a bigger plot. Lyla just kind of ran around with a pack of kids, trying to be a spy. Also, because of that lack of worldbuilding, I didn’t really know why the Red Fist was fighting against the establishment, or why it had become a gang of bullies.

Third, the ending was very open. I personally don’t like such open endings, especially with MARKED being a standalone. After so much buildup about Lyla deciding who to trust and what to do, I wanted to know what happened to her.

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Laura Williams McCaffrey:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

Book Review: The Crown’s Game by Evelyn SkyeThe Crown's Game by Evelyn Skye
Series: The Crown's Game #1
Published by Balzer & Bray on May 17, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 399
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Goodreads
1 Stars
Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the Tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love... or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear... the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

Book Review:

THE CROWN’S GAME has a lot of things I enjoy: a historical setting, magic, a strong and determined female character, and a duel to the death. But I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I’d hoped due to the lackluster romance and sloooooow pacing.

THE GOOD:

–The author was very good at describing the setting and the magic of the enchanters. I could easily see imperial Russia and picture the fantastical magic Vika and Nikolai created.

THE BAD:

–Maybe this is just me, but when two characters are in a duel to the death, playing the Crown’s Game for for their life and to be the tsar’s Imperial Enchanter, I expect a little more… danger. And I guess there’s a little danger, because they make an attempt on each other’s life. But the attempts stop very quickly, because Nikolai and Vika forget everything at stake when their magic touches each other. Cue insta-love and using the game to woo each other and renovate Saint Petersburg, because that will impress the tsar.

–The romance. I’m usually picky on romance, but this mess of a love triangle nearly had me fleeing for the hills. I need to believe the characters are attracted to each other. The author just can’t tell me they are because they fell in love at first sight. Here’s what Pasha, the heir, has to say about Vika, “If there were ever a girl a man could fall in love with without knowing, it would be Vika (p. 320, ARC).” Sorry, that doesn’t work for me.

–The magic has very few rules. Yes, I know this is fantasy, but magic has to have a system. As far as I can tell, the enchanters can do almost anything they can imagine. Vika is more talented with the elements and Nikolai with mechanics, but that’s because of their upbringing.

–The story itself was boring and slow. For me, this was partly because there were so many POVs in the book. For example, I would have preferred to read about Vika creating the island, rather than Nikolai waking up and finding it. Because there were so many POVs, good story bits were often just dropped into the text, rather than getting to see them happen. And then that ending… I won’t spoil it, but there’s no way I’ll read book two.

As you can see, THE CROWN’S GAME didn’t live up to the hype for me.

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Evelyn Skye:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead

Book Review: The Glittering Court by Richelle MeadThe Glittering Court by Richelle Mead
Series: The Glittering Court #1
Published by Razorbill on April 5, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
1 Stars
For a select group of girls, the Glittering Court offers a shot at a life they’ve only ever dreamed of, one of luxury, glamour, and leisure. To high-born Adelaide, whose wealthy family is forcing her into a loveless marriage, the Glittering Court represents something else: the chance to chart her own destiny, and adventure in an unspoiled, prosperous new land across the sea.

After a chance meeting with the dazzling Cedric Thorn, Adelaide poses as a servant to join the crop of impoverished girls he promises to transform into proper ladies. But her familiarity with upper class life comes with a price: she must hide her identity from her new friends, mysterious refugee Mira and fiery former laundress Tamsin, and most importantly, from Cedric himself—even though she’s falling in love with him.

Everything begins to crumble when Cedric discovers Adelaide’s ruse, and she catches the eye of a powerful young governor, who wants her for a wife. She didn’t leave the gilded cage of her old life behind just to become someone else's property. But nothing is as daunting—or as wonderful—as the potent, forbidden attraction simmering between Adelaide and Cedric. One that, if acted on, would make them both outcasts in a wild, dangerous, uncharted world, and possibly lead them to their deaths.

Book Review:

For some reason, I thought THE GLITTERING COURT was a book about faeries and their courts. I don’t know why — maybe the title gave me that impression? Anyway, that misconception aside, I’m not sure why THE GLITTERING COURT is classified as fantasy. There’s no magic, extraordinary creatures, special powers. Nothing.

Basically, THE GLITTERING COURT is THE JEWEL + THE SELECTION set in a pseudo-Frontier America. A young countess escapes an arranged marriage by taking her servant’s identity and place in the Glittering Court. The Court takes impoverished girls who want a better life and shines them into jewels to be sold into marriage in Adoria, a land low on women and high on money. In Adoria, the girls are displayed and advertised by the value of their scores on subjects like dancing and polite conversation.

If you like books full of glitz and glamour and descriptions of dresses and rooms, THE GLITTERING COURT might be the book for you. But I like my fantasy with substance and worldbuilding and magic, so I was quite disappointed.

Even if I ignore that the book is classified as fantasy (and this might be the fault of the publisher, not the author), there’s still a lack of worldbuilding and some wild leaps that just made my head hurt. For example, Adelaide runs away from an arranged marriage by going into the Glittering Court… to be sold as a bride. Instead of being smart and trying to get high scores, she downplays her abilities to be in the middle of the pack, where she’s unlikely to get her choice of husband.

I was bored and/or frustrated by the majority of THE GLITTERING COURT, and I almost put it down several times. I kept reading in the hope it would get better, only to be annoyed by “hey, let’s reveal secrets at the end, but keep them from the reader until book two!” or “hey, let’s save the characters from their own stupid with a miracle!” The author brings up topics that could have been interesting, like religious heresy, but doesn’t dive into any of them. Everything stays on the surface in a very bland way, even attempted rape, without any consequences or the characters doing any emotional processing.

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Richelle Mead:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Black City Saint by Richard A. Knaak

Book Review: Black City Saint by Richard A. KnaakBlack City Saint by Richard A Knaak
Series: Black City Saint #1
Published by Pyr on March 1, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 390
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
1 Stars
For more than sixteen hundred years, Nick Medea has followed and guarded the Gate that keeps the mortal realm and that of Feirie separate, seeking in vain absolution for the fatal errors he made when he slew the dragon. All that while, he has tried and failed to keep the woman he loves from dying over and over.

Yet in the fifty years since the Night the Dragon Breathed over the city of Chicago, the Gate has not only remained fixed, but open to the trespasses of the Wyld, the darkest of the Feiriefolk. Not only does that mean an evil resurrected from Nick’s own past, but the reincarnation of his lost Cleolinda, a reincarnation destined once more to die.

Nick must turn inward to that which he distrusts the most: the Dragon, the beast he slew when he was still only Saint George. He must turn to the monster residing in him, now a part of him…but ever seeking escape.

The gang war brewing between Prohibition bootleggers may be the least of his concerns. If Nick cannot prevent an old evil from opening the way between realms…then not only might Chicago face a fate worse than the Great Fire, but so will the rest of the mortal realm.

Book Review:

I’m a fan of Richard A. Knaak’s books in the World of Warcraft realm, so I was eager to try out some of his original work. BLACK CITY SAINT sounded quite intriguing, with its mashup of noir, fae, dragons, and 1920s Chicago.

Unfortunately, I was bored by 97% of the book. Every time I picked it up to read, I kept putting it back down and looking at Instagram or Twitter or any other diversion I could find. Part of the reason was the stilted, overly formal writing style, which I think the author used in an attempt to make the book feel more 1920s-ish. But I also know that Knaak can overwrite, so that was part of it as well. I hate when I have to reread sentences 2 or 3 times to figure out what they mean.

My second problem with BLACK CITY SAINT? Nick spends the first half of the book going all over Chicago for no real reason at all. The first few chapters were cool, because they introduced Nick, the dragon, and the author’s version of fae, but then nothing happens. Nick goes here, he goes there, he keeps secrets, he goes here, he goes there, he keeps more secrets.

Third, the author tried so hard to make Nick’s enemy the typical tricky fae lord that I was confused by all the double-crossing, lying, trickery, and secrets. Nick was continually surprised by the villain, which I found hard to believe considering they’d fought before, and he had more than a thousand years of experience. And because he kept getting tricked by Oberon, I found it even more hard to believe that he would eventually triumph.

Fourth, why was Claryce even in BLACK CITY SAINT? All she wanted to do was follow Nick into danger and Nick wanted her to stay behind and be safe. She never listened and he loved her even more for it? Claryce played practically no role in the book, other than a prop to be moved around until the very end. I thought it was lazy the author relied on her past incarnations to develop hints of a relationship between them, instead of just developing it in the here and now.

All of that said, I did like the dragon in BLACK CITY SAINT. Knaak is good with dragons.

Overall, I think BLACK CITY SAINT tried to combine too many things and genres, and tried too hard to be clever. There were some cool ideas, but the execution was off for me.

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– leeanna

Book Review: Reign of Shadows by Sophie Jordan

Book Review: Reign of Shadows by Sophie JordanReign of Shadows by Sophie Jordan
Series: Reign of Shadows #1
Published by HarperTeen on February 9, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, Edelweiss
Goodreads
1 Stars
Seventeen years ago, an eclipse cloaked the kingdom of Relhok in perpetual darkness. In the chaos, an evil chancellor murdered the king and queen and seized their throne. Luna, Relhok’s lost princess, has been hiding in a tower ever since. Luna’s survival depends on the world believing she is dead.

But that doesn’t stop Luna from wanting more. When she meets Fowler, a mysterious archer braving the woods outside her tower, Luna is drawn to him despite the risk. When the tower is attacked, Luna and Fowler escape together. But this world of darkness is more treacherous than Luna ever realized.

With every threat stacked against them, Luna and Fowler find solace in each other. But with secrets still unspoken between them, falling in love might be their most dangerous journey yet.

With lush writing and a star–crossed romance, Reign of Shadows is Sophie Jordan at her best.

Book Review:

REIGN OF SHADOWS is the first in a new YA series by Sophie Jordan. It’s set in a world of darkness where an eclipse has reigned for 17 years. The rightful princess of the land lives in a tower hidden in the forest, waiting for daylight to come back to reclaim her kingdom.

I liked the idea behind REIGN OF SHADOWS — the world of darkness and the hidden princess. Unfortunately, the author didn’t deliver on anything, from worldbuilding to an actual story. Why’s the world dark? Because of an eclipse. That’s the entirety of the explanation. Where do the dwellers come from? Underground. How can a blind girl run through a forest like she’s Usain Bolt, without tripping or falling?

Yeah. Luna is blind, which could have been very cool, but the author turned her into Superwoman with no basis. I understand that one’s other senses do amp up, but Luna’s abilities are unbelievably superhuman.

Then there’s Fowler, the bad-boy love interest who is incredibly broken. He’s lost too much in life to care about anyone. But Luna’s love fixes him in a matter of days. Every single one of their kisses is good enough to cause a volcano to erupt.

Lastly, what the heck happened in REIGN OF SHADOWS? The book read more like a prequel to a series than a real first installment. I just finished the book, and I’m trying to remember what happened… not much.

I’ve read one of the author’s other books — UNINVITED — and had many of the same issues with that book. So, I’m thinking Sophie Jordan just isn’t an author for me. She has cool ideas, but the execution is off and there are just too many cliche tropes in her books for me to enjoy them.

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Sophie Jordan:
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– leeanna

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

Book Review: Sisi: Empress on Her Own by Allison PatakiSisi: Empress on Her Own by Allison Pataki
Published by The Dial Press on March 8, 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 464
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
1 Stars
For readers of Philippa Gregory, Paula McLain, and Daisy Goodwin comes a sweeping and powerful novel by New York Times bestselling author 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.

Book Review:

I didn’t know that SISI: EMPRESS ON HER OWN is actually a follow-up to THE ACCIDENTAL EMPRESS. I learned that only after I went to Goodreads and searched for the author. The summary for SISI gives no clue that it’s a sequel, which is an unfortunate omission.

Because if I’d read THE ACCIDENTAL EMPRESS first, I might have enjoyed SISI more. SISI starts in 1868, with the empress reflecting how much more she enjoys life in Hungary than Vienna. I thought it was an odd place to start her story, as I wanted to know just how she influenced the Austro-Hungarian Compromise, since she didn’t seem to care much about government. I realize now that the events of her early years were covered in THE ACCIDENTAL EMPRESS.

But even if I had read the first book about Sisi’s life, I might not have liked SISI anymore. I wasn’t a fan of the author’s writing style or her uninspiring attempts to bring Sisi to life. I thought the Wikipedia entry was more exciting and educational. I like my historical fiction to educate me, or at least stimulate an interest in a new-to-me figure or time period. If I went off Pataki’s Sisi, I’d think she was a vapid, selfish, irresponsible woman who preferred to fantasize about horses and unavailable men. And yes, Sisi might have been all of that to some extent, but bring something new to her story? Or why not delve into her psyche, really dig into her mental state rather than staying on the surface? At least tell her story in an interesting way, instead of stringing me along for some 460 boring pages of riding and etiquette and stiff, flat characters.

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Allison Pataki:
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– leeanna