Book Review: Passion Blue (Passion Blue #1) by Victoria Strauss

Book Review: Passion Blue (Passion Blue #1) by Victoria StraussPassion Blue by Victoria Strauss
Series: Passion Blue #1
Published by Skyscape on November 6, 2012
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Author
Goodreads
5 Stars
"Be sure you know your true heart’s desire, or you may find yourself surprised by what you receive."

This is the warning the Astrologer-Sorcerer gives Giulia when she pays him to create a magical talisman for her. The scorned illegitimate daughter of a Milanese nobleman, Giulia is determined to defy the dire fate predicted by her horoscope, and use the talisman to claim what she believes is her heart’s desire: true love and a place where she belongs–not likely prospects for a girl about to be packed off to the cloistered world of a convent.

But the convent of Santa Marta is full of surprises. There are strict rules, long hours of work, and spiteful rivalries…but there’s also friendship, and the biggest surprise of all: a workshop of female artists who produce paintings of astonishing beauty, using a luminous blue mixed from a secret formula: Passion blue. Yet even as Giulia begins to learn the mysteries of the painter’s craft, the magic of the talisman is at work, and a forbidden romance beckons her down a path of uncertainty and danger. She is haunted by the sorcerer’s warning, and by a question: does she really know the true compass of her heart?

Set in Renaissance Italy, this richly imagined novel about a girl’s daring journey towards self-discovery transports readers into a fascinating, exotic world where love, faith, and art inspire passion–of many different hues.

Book Review:

I’m not big on art. Famous paintings and sculptures and the like are nice in a historical way, but that’s about it. I prefer words over pictures, always have. Once in a while I’ll read a good biography or historical fiction about a famous painter, but that’s the extent of my interest.

So, if I don’t like art, you might ask why I enjoyed PASSION BLUE so much. The answer is easy: Victoria Strauss made paintings, the process of painting, and color theory come alive in words. Thanks to her vivid and clear descriptions, I could see Giulia’s drawings, see the paintings the nuns created, and see their enjoyment in their work. I could also see the gorgeous uniqueness of Passion blue, the secret blue color the convent’s painting mistress is famous for discovering.

PASSION BLUE is historical fiction with a little supernatural mixed in. When Giulia is sent to the convent of Santa Marta against her will, she asks an astrologer to make a talisman for her. She wants her dream of marriage and children to come true, not to be sentenced to a lonely, barren life behind convent walls. But in the convent, Giulia’s artistic abilities are discovered, and she’s taken under the wing of Maestra Humilità. Giulia is surprised to discover that women have more options inside the convent than outside. Inside, she could be a painter. Outside, she would just be a servant, maybe a wife if she’s lucky.

Anasurymboriel, the spirit inside Giulia’s talisman, will help her achieve her heart’s desire. She just has to figure out what it is.

PASSION BLUE is a book I’ve read twice since its release in 2012. I’m sure I’ll read it again in the future. It’s one of those books about art that makes me see why so many people enjoy artwork. It makes me want to pick up a paintbrush and play with colors, even though I can’t draw a stick figure. That’s how well the author described painting and color and composition. I also found convent life interesting: the differences between common-born and noble-born nuns, and how women sometimes had more freedom locked away from the world.

PASSION BLUE is an engaging historical fiction novel of painting life in Renaissance Italy, one girl’s pursuit to find her true heart’s desire in the place where she might never have expected it.

Upcoming:

Make sure you check back tomorrow, September 19, for my review of PASSION BLUE‘s sequel, COLOR SONG!

Socialize with the author:

Victoria Strauss:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Traitor’s Blade (Greatcoats #1) by Sebastien de Castell

Book Review: Traitor’s Blade (Greatcoats #1) by Sebastien de CastellTraitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell
Series: Greatcoats #1
Published by Jo Fletcher Books, Quercus Books on July 15, 2014
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, Edelweiss
Goodreads
5 Stars
With swashbuckling action that recall Dumas' Three Musketeers Sebastien de Castell has created a dynamic new fantasy series. In Traitor's Blade a disgraced swordsman struggles to redeem himself by protecting a young girl caught in the web of a royal conspiracy.

The King is dead, the Greatcoats have been disbanded, and Falcio Val Mond and his fellow magistrates Kest and Brasti have been reduced to working as bodyguards for a nobleman who refuses to pay them. Things could be worse, of course. Their employer could be lying dead on the floor while they are forced to watch the killer plant evidence framing them for the murder. Oh wait, that's exactly what's happening.

Now a royal conspiracy is about to unfold in the most corrupt city in the world. A carefully orchestrated series of murders that began with the overthrow of an idealistic young king will end with the death of an orphaned girl and the ruin of everything that Falcio, Kest, and Brasti have fought for. But if the trio want to foil the conspiracy, save the girl, and reunite the Greatcoats, they'll have to do it with nothing but the tattered coats on their backs and the swords in their hands, because these days every noble is a tyrant, every knight is a thug, and the only thing you can really trust is a traitor's blade.

Book Review:

Before starting TRAITOR’S BLADE, I had just finished a nine book epic fantasy series. I was still in the mood for fantasy, but something lighter and not so lengthy. This book fit the bill so perfectly I felt almost as if it had been written just for me. Now, TRAITOR’S BLADE does have plenty of dark stuff in it, from tyrannical dukes to abused peasants to a murdered king, but it’s written with such dark humor that you’re laughing even as you’re watching the main character go into a fight he’s almost certain to lose.

Essentially, TRAITOR’S BLADE is a fantasy book that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I loved that.

I was hooked from the very first page, and didn’t stop until I finished TRAITOR’S BLADE in one sitting. I actually read this book twice in two months, because the first time I tried to review it, all I could write was, “READ THIS NOW.” I’m still saying that, because I liked this book even more the second time.

I mean, how can you not love a book that starts off with this?

“You know what I find odd?” Brasti went on.
“Are you going to stop talking at any point in the near future?” I asked.
Brasti ignored me. “I find it odd that the sound of a nobleman rutting is hardly distinguishable from one being tortured.”
“Spent a lot of time torturing noblemen, have you?”
“You know what I mean. It’s all moans and grunts and little squeals, isn’t it? It’s indecent.”
Kest raised an eyebrow. “And what does decent rutting sound like?” (p. 3)

Sebastien de Castell has a great sense of humor, lots of creativity, and skill at telling a story. I got sucked into the plight of Falcio and his fellow Greatcoats. I felt sorry for them and their situation — basically outlaws after the death of their King — but I also couldn’t wait to see how Falcio would get out of each mess he got into. And Falcio is very, very good at getting into messes, so there’s lots of entertainment even while you’re hoping he makes it out alive.

I realize this isn’t a very good review, but you know how sometimes there are books that make you fangirl (or fanboy) endlessly and just make you happy to read them? Books that you want to push on everyone, but are too incoherent to scream anything but “READ THIS” and shove it into their hands? Yeah. TRAITOR’S BLADE is one of those books.

Socialize with the author:

Sebastien de Castell:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Garden of Darkness by Gillian Murray Kendall

Book Review: The Garden of Darkness by Gillian Murray KendallThe Garden of Darkness by Gillian Murray Kendall
Published by Ravenstone on June 24, 2014
Genres: Dystopian, Post-Apocalyptic, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
5 Stars
Their families dead from the pandemic SitkaAZ13, known as Pest, 15-year-old cheerleader Clare and 13-year-old chess club member Jem, an unlikely pair, are thrown together and realize that, if either of them wishes to reach adulthood, they must find a cure.A shadowy adult broadcasting on the radio to all orphaned children promises just that — to cure children once they grow into Pest, then to feed them and to care for them.

Or does this adult have something else in mind?

Against a hostile landscape of rotting cities and of a countryside infected by corpses and roamed by voracious diseased survivors, Jem and Clare make their bid for life and, with their group of fellow child-travelers growing, embark on a journey to find the grownup they believe holds the cure. Their only weapon is Clare’s dog, Bear.

But Clare and Jem, as well as their followers, are hampered by the knowledge that everything in this new child-led world had become suspect—the love of diseased adults, alliances, trust, hope. As Clare and Jem learn to stitch wounds, skin deer and survive in the ashes of the old world perhaps it is no surprise that they begin to find that friendship is as redemptive as anything they seek—that friendship has its own kind of healing power. And, at the end of their journey, in the face of the ultimate betrayal, they discover that out of friendship can come love.

Book Review:

Sometimes when I finish a book, I feel … gutted. In a good way. I’m sad that I finished the book. I’m sad that I won’t get to spend any more time with the characters, watching them explore their world and grow in the process. I’m sad that my adventure in reading the book is over. I find it hard to start another book, because I’m still thinking about the book I just finished.

THE GARDEN OF DARKNESS made me feel that way. This book got to me. That’s hard for a post-apocalyptic/dystopian book to do, because I’ve read a ton in the genres, almost to the point where they’re all the same. To a degree, THE GARDEN OF DARKNESS is like a lot of what’s out there: all adults are killed by a mysterious disease leaving the world full of kids. Some kids band together, some go it alone, some live, some die. There’s usually someone smart who takes advantage of the chaos to create their own castle and rule like a king. And so on.

All of that, and darker, is in this book. But what’s different about THE GARDEN OF DARKNESS is how it’s written and the characters. Instead of employing the usual first-person point of view that’s common, the author tells the story in third-person. This sort of keeps you from the full emotional impact of the known world ending, but then the little things really pop up and sucker punch you. Like when Clare realizes there probably won’t be any new books written for a very, very long time. The author also sometimes gives hints as to when something really bad is going to happen, which got me. For example, saying that if Clare knew what was going to happen next, she would have enjoyed X moment of happiness. This tactic had me trying to flip ahead so I could find out right away what would happen, which is hard to do when you’re reading an e-book.

The characters and the relationships they form are another great part of this book. I’m always critical of romantic relationships (and they usually don’t work for me), so it’s super refreshing to see friendship be so important. I think one of the themes of THE GARDEN OF DARKNESS is the family you choose. Clare nearly loses herself after her parents die from Pest, but when she meets Jem, Mirri, and Sarai, she has a new reason to live. And all of the characters were so distinct, so alive. Not just the main four, but all of them, from the gang of city kids to Ramah and Bird Boy. I could have read a lot more about every one of them.

For the first third or so of the book, I wanted THE GARDEN OF DARKNESS to move faster. It’s somewhat slow at the beginning, setting up Pest, then following Clare’s depression after her parents’ death. But as I got further in, I started to enjoy the slow pace. The book does pick up after Clare meets those who will become her family. The action builds from there, to a showdown with a creepy villain. I rather liked that part, though it’s hard to say why without spoiling everything. Let’s just say the author doesn’t take the usual route, and I enjoyed that.

THE GARDEN OF DARKNESS breathes fresh light into the post-apocalyptic/dystopian genres, and I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a new twist on the same old. Oh, I forgot to mention one more good thing — this book is a standalone!

About the author:

Gillian Murray Kendall is a American author and a Professor of English literature at Smith College. A specialist in Shakespeare and English Renaissance drama, and a graduate of Stanford University’s Creative Writing Program, she teaches a course on the post-apocalyptic novel as well as on topics in Renaissance literature. Kendall is the author of articles, short stories and a book of essays.
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– leeanna

Book Review: Iron & Velvet (Kate Kane #1) by Alexis Hall

Book Review: Iron & Velvet (Kate Kane #1) by Alexis HallIron & Velvet by Alexis Hall
Series: Kate Kane #1
Published by Riptide Publishing on December 16, 2013
Genres: Adult, LGBT, Mystery, Paranormal, Romance
Pages: 277
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
5 Stars
First rule in this line of business: don’t sleep with the client.

My name’s Kate Kane, and when an eight-hundred-year-old vampire prince came to me with a case, I should have told her no. But I’ve always been a sucker for a femme fatale.

It always goes the same way. You move too fast, you get in too deep, and before you know it, someone winds up dead. Last time it was my partner. This time it could be me. Yesterday a werewolf was murdered outside the Velvet, the night-time playground of one of the most powerful vampires in England. Now half the monsters in London are at each other’s throats, and the other half are trying to get in my pants. The Witch Queen will protect her own, the wolves are out for vengeance, and the vampires are out for, y’know, blood.

I’ve got a killer on the loose, a war on the horizon, and a scotch on the rocks. It’s going to be an interesting day.

Book Review:

I’m not really sure what took me so long to get into IRON & VELVET, but boy, do I regret waiting to read it. IRON & VELVET is one of those books I couldn’t stop reading — I felt as if it was written just for me. I adored everything about it, and there is one upside to not reading it when it was released — I don’t have to wait for book two, SHADOWS & DREAMS.

Kate Kane, paranormal investigator extraordinaire, doesn’t work for vampires. But with business being non-existent, and the Prince of Cups, one of the most powerful vampires in England, asking for her, she doesn’t have much choice but to take the case. Before long, she’s up to her eyeballs in vampires, werewolves, witches, tentacle monsters, and more. The whole gamut and then some. Kate herself has some supernatural blood; her mother is the Queen of the Wild Hunt, but that’s mostly an inconvenience.

I really liked the world the author created, as well as his twists on the different supernatural creatures, from vampires to demons to werewolves. Most of the creatures are true to legend, but upgraded for modern times. I also liked that three of the most powerful characters: Julian, vampire Prince of Cups, Tara, the alpha werewolf, and Nimue, queen of mages, are female.

Oh, yeah. IRON & VELVET is full of gay women, including Kate, Julian, and Nimue. This is an f/f paranormal book, possibly the f/f paranormal book I’ve been craving. There’s some pretty damn hot sex, and I couldn’t help but laugh every time Kate had to remind herself not to sleep with the client, or to keep her eyes on someone’s face when she was talking to them.

The author’s writing style pulled me into the book. If you like any combination of sarcasm, dry humor, and dark humor, you’ll probably enjoy Kate’s narration. “Here lies Kate Kane. Eaten by big bad werewolves. Beloved daughter. Sorely missed (Chapter 3).” Kate’s an alcoholic, has trust issues, is attracted to almost anything female that moves, but she does sincerely care about the victims. Kate usually tries to do the right thing, fucks up here and there, but keeps trying until things are right (or as right as they’re going to be). Yeah, in case you can’t tell, I kind of loved Kate.

Everything about IRON & VELVET kept me flicking the pages, from the murder mystery to Kate’s voice to Julian’s sexiness to well, everything!

Socialize with the author:

Alexis Hall:
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– leeanna

Book Review: White Heart of Justice (Noon Onyx #3) by Jill Archer

Book Review: White Heart of Justice (Noon Onyx #3) by Jill ArcherWhite Heart of Justice by Jill Archer
Series: Noon Onyx #3
Published by Ace on May 27, 2014
Genres: New Adult, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 304
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
5 Stars
Since Lucifer claimed victory at Armageddon, demons, angels, and humans have coexisted in uneasy harmony. Those with waning magic are trained to maintain peace and order. But hostilities are never far from erupting...

After years of denying her abilities, Noon Onyx, the first woman in history to wield waning magic, has embraced her power. She’s won the right to compete in the prestigious Laurel Crown Race—an event that will not only earn her the respect of her peers but also, if she wins, the right to control her future.

However, Noon’s task is nearly impossible: retrieve the White Heart of Justice, a mythical sword that disappeared hundreds of years ago. The sword is rumored to be hidden in a dangerous region of Halja that she is unlikely to return from. But Noon’s life isn’t the only thing hanging in the balance. The sword holds an awesome power that, in the wrong hands, could reboot the apocalypse—and Noon is the only one who can prevent Armageddon from starting again…

white heart of justice blog tour

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for WHITE HEART OF JUSTICE by Jill Archer. The tour is hosted by Bewitching Book Tours and you can visit all the stops here. There’s a pretty neat tour-wide giveaway after my review, so make sure to check that out.

I’ve also reviewed the first two books in the Noon Onyx series: DARK LIGHT OF DAY and FIERY EDGE OF STEEL.

Book Review:

With WHITE HEART OF JUSTICE, the Noon Onyx series is now one of my favorite urban/dark fantasy series. The second I finished the book, I wanted to read the next book, because that ending! I’m not going to spoil anything, but if you’re like me, you’re going to want a fourth book, too.

WHITE HEART OF JUSTICE starts off with Noon fighting to be St. Luck’s competitor in the annual Laurel Crown Race. The winner gets to pick where they will do their fourth-semester residency, important because that residency usually turns into a permanent job. Noon needs to win the race because she doesn’t want to be stuck torturing or killing rogue demons. Although she’s come a long way since her initial reluctance to accept her waning magic powers, she’s still not thrilled about the idea of torturing or killing on command.

Noon’s assignment for the race is to find the fabled White Heart of Justice, an ensorcelled sword created by Metatron, a famous Angel, for Justica, the Demon Patron for Judgment, Punishment, and Mercy. The only problem? The sword has been missing for centuries, and oh yeah, it’s in Tartarus, which is basically Hell in an ice fortress.

No big deal, right? Not after what Noon and Rafe, her Guardian Angel, have already been through in previous books. But Jill Archer tops herself in WHITE HEART OF JUSTICE. Noon starts the race off half dead, after being hit by a spelled arrow. Her former best friend and Angel, Peter, is out for blood because Noon didn’t want to search with him. Noon’s also still trying to accept that her ex-boyfriend, Ari, hid the fact that he’s a demon. And that’s just the first third of the book.

Noon’s growth as a character has always been one of my favorite things about the series, as well as the author’s worldbuilding. Both are present in WHITE HEART OF JUSTICE. Noon has changed so much from book one, DARK LIGHT OF DAY, but in a believable, realistic way. She accepts her power and uses it in her own way. Noon’s also growing up as an adult, dealing with heartbreak, a potential new relationship, and making better decisions. Yeah, there’s a bit of romance between Noon and Rafe, which I liked! I’m usually not a fan of romance, but I liked how the author did it here, and I ship Noon/Rafe now.

The journey to Tartarus and Tartarus itself … brrr. A freezing cold fortress is my idea of Hell (I hate being cold). I liked the legend built up around it, and the inside of it, boy, that was creepy.

I’m not mentioning half of what’s in WHITE HEART OF JUSTICE. If you like the series, I think you’ll like the newest book. I certainly did, and am hoping Noon’s story continues. If you haven’t started the series, check it out if you’re looking for something a bit different.

Giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*giveaway is tour-wide

About the author:

author jill archerJill Archer writes dark, genre-bending fantasy from rural Maryland. Her novels include Dark Light of Day, Fiery Edge of Steel, and White Heart of Justice. She loves cats, coffee, books, movies, day tripping, and outdoor adventuring.
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– leeanna

Book Review: Expiration Day by William Campbell Powell

Book Review: Expiration Day by William Campbell PowellExpiration Day by William Campbell Powell
Published by Tor Teen on April 22, 2014
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, NetGalley
Goodreads
5 Stars
What happens when you turn eighteen and there are no more tomorrows?

It is the year 2049, and humanity is on the brink of extinction….

Tania Deeley has always been told that she’s a rarity: a human child in a world where most children are sophisticated androids manufactured by Oxted Corporation. When a decline in global fertility ensued, it was the creation of these near-perfect human copies called teknoids that helped to prevent the utter collapse of society.

Though she has always been aware of the existence of teknoids, it is not until her first day at The Lady Maud High School for Girls that Tania realizes that her best friend, Siân, may be one. Returning home from the summer holiday, she is shocked by how much Siân has changed. Is it possible that these changes were engineered by Oxted? And if Siân could be a teknoid, how many others in Tania’s life are not real?

Driven by the need to understand what sets teknoids apart from their human counterparts, Tania begins to seek answers. But time is running out. For everyone knows that on their eighteenth “birthdays,” teknoids must be returned to Oxted—never to be heard from again.

Book Review:

EXPIRATION DAY is the YA science fiction book I’ve been looking for. I would actually recommend it for teens and adults alike, since I think it has a wide audience. When I finished the book, I really wished I had someone to talk about it with, since it’s a book that’s stayed in my mind for a couple of weeks.

Essentially, EXPIRATION DAY explores what it means to be human. There’s not any complicated science to understand, which I appreciated, since it can be really easy to get caught up with new technology or a new world and overlook the main issues. Written in diary format, the book tells the story of Tania Deeley, from age eleven to eighteen. Tania lives in a world where very, very few children are born. To help prevent social collapse, Oxted Corporation came up with the genius idea of loaning childless couples robot babies. The robots are practically impossible to distinguish from normal humans, but at eighteen, they are returned to Oxted.

Here’s the thing about EXPIRATION DAY that really got to me, and why I enjoyed it so much. Normally, the kind of stuff Tania does as she’s growing up, from taking a vacation with her parents to figuring out how to date to learning to play the guitar — that doesn’t really interest me. I don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction because I like to venture into new worlds. But because Tania herself questioned what it means to be a human or a robot, I started to think about that too.

Are robots capable of creating original music or poetry? What does it mean to create something? Would a robot’s behavior change if it knew it was a robot? What’s the importance of teenage lust and crushes? Other than the human-like robots, and living in a world changed by war, Tania’s life is pretty normal. So it makes you consider how much influence “normal” human experiences have.

EXPIRATION DAY isn’t packed with action or adventure. I would have liked more worldbuilding, because the world Tania lives in sounded fascinating, but otherwise, there’s nothing I didn’t like about it. As I said at the start of my review, it’s a book that’s stayed in my head, and I know I’ll enjoy rereading it in the future and pondering what it means to be human.

Let’s talk about it:

Do you like your science fiction packed full of new technology/science/new stuff, or easier to comprehend?

Socialize with the author:

William Campbell Powell:
Website

– leeanna

Book Review: Timeless by Rachel Spangler

Book Review: Timeless by Rachel SpanglerTimeless by Rachel Spangler
Published by Bold Strokes Books on April 15, 2014
Genres: LGBT, Romance
Pages: 264
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
5 Stars
What would you change about your past if you had the chance? What if you didn’t have a choice?

Stevie Geller doesn’t do conflict. She likes her job as a successful novelist and playwright because it allows her to peacefully ensconce herself in her New York City loft, avoid human interactions, and leave personal drama for the page and stage. When her agent asks her to return to her hometown of Darlington, Illinois, to accept an award, she agrees only because he promises the process will be quick and easy. One panic attack and concussion later, Stevie is forced to confront her past in ways that seem to defy reality. As if befriending a social outcast and confronting high school bullies weren’t enough, she also finds herself falling for a closeted teacher. Along the way, Stevie must decide if some things are worth fighting for. In her rush to escape the past, will she leave behind a better future, or are some conflicts really timeless?

Book Review:

TIMELESS is a book that blew me away. From the summary, I thought it was going to be sweet and fluffy, with a romance between a teacher and her former student. Yeah, there is some fluff, and that romance is there, but TIMELESS is so much more than that. The author took me on a heartfelt ride about facing your past, confronting bullies, overcoming fears, and growing into the person you want to be.

Stevie hates conflict; she’s always avoided it. She’s never liked standing out in a crowd, so when her agent tries to get her to return to her high school for an award, her first answer is no. But he persists, and before Stevie knows it, she’s back in the Midwest, a place where she’s never felt comfortable. But before she can accept her award and jet back to New York City, she’s given the oddest opportunity to revisit her high school years.

There is a romance in TIMELESS, but it’s not the main part of the story. Yeah, it’s important, and I liked the slow burn between Stevie and Jody, and I would like to see more of them in the future. My favorite part of TIMELESS was Stevie: her voice, her character, and the way she used her second chance in the past to grow.

Who hasn’t thought about how life would be different if they’d done X instead of Y in high school? TIMELESS explores that, as well as a variety of issues from bullying to homophobia. I think adults and teens would enjoy this book, and I’d recommend it to everyone. When I finished TIMELESS, I felt so hopeful and so inspired. Not many books give me that feeling, and it’s one of my favorite books for the year.

Socialize with the author:

Rachel Spangler:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Shadow Queen by Sandra Gulland

Book Review: The Shadow Queen by Sandra GullandThe Shadow Queen by Sandra Gulland
Published by Doubleday on April 8, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Goodreads
5 Stars
From the author of the beloved Josephine B. Trilogy, comes a spellbinding novel inspired by the true story of a young woman who rises from poverty to become confidante to the most powerful, provocative and dangerous woman in the 17th century French court: the mistress of the charismatic Sun King.

1660, Paris

Claudette’s life is like an ever-revolving stage set. From an impoverished childhood wandering the French countryside with her family’s acting troupe, Claudette finally witnesses her mother's astonishing rise to stardom in Parisian theaters. Working with playwrights Corneille, Molière and Racine, Claudette’s life is culturally rich, but like all in the theatrical world at the time, she's socially scorned.

A series of chance encounters gradually pull Claudette into the alluring orbit of Athénaïs de Montespan, mistress to Louis XIV and reigning "Shadow Queen." Needing someone to safeguard her secrets, Athénaïs offers to hire Claudette as her personal attendant.

Enticed by the promise of riches and respectability, Claudette leaves the world of the theater only to find that court is very much like a stage, with outward shows of loyalty masking more devious intentions. This parallel is not lost on Athénaïs, who fears political enemies are plotting her ruin as young courtesans angle to take the coveted spot in the king's bed.

Indeed, Claudette's "reputable" new position is marked by spying, illicit trysts and titanic power struggles. As Athénaïs, becomes ever more desperate to hold onto the King's favor, innocent love charms move into the realm of deadly Black Magic, and Claudette is forced to consider a move that will put her own life—and the family she loves so dearly—at risk.

Set against the gilded opulence of a newly-constructed Versailles and the War of Theaters, THE SHADOW QUEEN is a seductive, gripping novel about the lure of wealth, the illusion of power, and the increasingly uneasy relationship between two strong-willed women whose actions could shape the future of France.

Book Review:

I could write an extremely long review on why I loved THE SHADOW QUEEN. But no one wants to read a novel about a novel, so here’s what’s really important: I connected with this book. I read it twice, because the first time I flew through it so quickly I couldn’t write a review other than “read this!” The second time, I enjoyed the book even more. It’s one I’m sure to read another couple of times in the future.

I had never heard of Claudette des Œillets before reading THE SHADOW QUEEN, and from what I gather, she doesn’t have the greatest historical reputation. Claudette is known for being involved with the Affair of the Poisons during the reign of Louis XIV. Claudette is also known for being the companion of Athénaïs de Montespan, the “Shadow Queen” of the king, aka the real power behind the throne.

However, Sandra Gulland presents a different side of Claudette. It’s a side that worked very well for me, because I empathized so with Claudette. Claudette’s father dies when she’s young, and he puts the responsibility for her high-strung mother and handicapped brother on her shoulders. The majority of the rest of her life is spent making sure they’re provided for, whether she has to clean chamber pots or find a wet nurse for Athénaïs’s offspring by the king. Whatever it takes to put a roof over their heads and food on the table.

France in the middle to late 1600s was a pretty miserable place for poor people, so I understood why Claudette was so entranced whenever she had a chance meeting with Athénaïs. The encounters start when both girls are children, and even then, Claudette’s easily able to see the difference between their lives. She’s living in a cave, begging to perform for the king while Athénaïs and her pony are dripping in ribbons and silver. So I could see why Claudette would give up one life she loved (theatre) for Athénaïs and the court.

THE SHADOW QUEEN had just the right amount of historical detail to for me to perfectly imagine Claudette’s world, from the theatre to court. I’ve never had an interest in French plays or the history of them, but now I do, thanks to reading this book. Claudette’s parents are both actors, and so the beginning “acts” of the book take place in the theatre world. It was pretty cool to find out how plays were staged back then. Also, when Claudette moves to court, to be Athénaïs’ maid and companion, it was easy to draw allusions between both false worlds.

In between my readings of THE SHADOW QUEEN, I read its companion novel, MISTRESS OF THE SUN. That book is about Louis XIV’s other mistress, Louise de la Vallière. For a complete reading experience, I recommend reading both (the order doesn’t matter in my opinion). I did prefer THE SHADOW QUEEN, mostly because of Claudette.

The only criticism I have for this book is I think “THE SHADOW QUEEN” is a misleading title. The book is about Claudette’s entire life, not just her time at court with Athénaïs. At first I thought the book would be all about the real shadow queen, but it’s not. So if you’re expecting a book entirely about Athénaïs, this is not it. But Claudette’s story is just as good.

I don’t know, guys. I just had a love affair with this book. Both times I read it, I couldn’t put it down. The smooth writing, the historical detail, the interesting story — everything together submerged me so completely into Claudette’s world. My eyes hated me, because I’d just keep flipping page after page.

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Sandra Gulland:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle (The League of Princes #2) by Christopher Healy

Book Review: The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle (The League of Princes #2) by Christopher HealyThe Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy
Series: The League of Princes #2
Published by Walden Pond Press on April 30, 2013
Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pages: 477
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Goodreads
5 Stars
Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You remember them, don't you? They're the Princes Charming, who finally got some credit after they stepped out of the shadows of their princesses--Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, and Briar Rose--to defeat an evil witch bent on destroying all their kingdoms.

But alas, such fame and recognition only last so long. And when the princes discover that an object of great power might fall into any number of wrong hands, they are going to have to once again band together to stop it from happening--even if no one will ever know it was they who did it.

Christopher Healy, author of the acclaimed The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, takes us back to the hilariously fractured fairy-tale world he created for another tale of medieval mischief. Magical gemstones, bladejaw eels, a mysterious Gray Phantom, and two maniacal warlords bent on world domination--it's all in a day's work for the League of Princes.

Book Review:

“You’re never too young to start being a hero. Practice dueling one-handed so you never need to drop your blankie.” — The Hero’s Guide to Being a Hero by Duncan

After devouring the first book in the League of Princes series, THE HERO’S GUIDE TO SAVING YOUR KINGDOM, I could not wait to dive into the second. Sometimes middle books disappoint me, because they aren’t as good as the first, or are just a bridge to the third book.

Not so with THE HERO’S GUIDE TO STORMING THE CASTLE. I think I might have loved it more than the first book!

There’s a big cast of characters in the book, between the princes, their princesses, the bad guys, and everyone else. Yet every character has a distinct personality, and is well drawn in a sentence or two. I never forgot anyone because each person was unique. I have a special fondness for Mr. Troll, though. Can’t beat a troll who wants to be the good guy in a song, even if the bards always get everything wrong.

This book has the same creativity and humor as the first, lots of adventure, and plenty of character growth. Liam’s somewhat of a jerk, having lost what means most to him: his reputation as a hero. His fiancée, Briar Rose, is pretty insistent on their marriage, even chaining Liam to his chair. She also has a big evil plan to overtake every kingdom, and only that brings Liam out of his stupor. Sort of. He eventually shapes up, with plenty of help from his friends.

I was sad when I finished the book, because I didn’t want it to be over! This series is great. If I had a young person in my life, I think it’s a series I’d enjoy reading with them, as both kids and adults can enjoy it. It’s one of my new favorites, and it’s one I’ll enjoy rereading for years.

Socialize with the author:

Christopher Healy:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Half Bad (Half Life #1) by Sally Green

Book Review: Half Bad (Half Life #1) by Sally GreenHalf Bad by Sally Green
Series: Half Life #1
Published by Viking Juvenile on March 4, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
5 Stars
Half Bad by Sally Green is a breathtaking debut novel about one boy's struggle for survival in a hidden society of witches.

You can't read, can't write, but you heal fast, even for a witch.

You get sick if you stay indoors after dark.

You hate White Witches but love Annalise, who is one.

You've been kept in a cage since you were fourteen.

All you've got to do is escape and find Mercury, the Black Witch who eats boys. And do that before your seventeenth birthday.

Easy.

Book Review:

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” –Hamlet, William Shakespeare

How do you know if someone is good or bad? Is a white witch good because she’s a white witch, or because she chooses to be good? Is a black witch evil because he’s a black witch, or because he chooses to be evil?

Those are the questions at root of HALF BAD. Born of a white witch and a black witch, Nathan is a Half Code. He won’t have his full powers until seventeen, but if the ruling council of witches has their way, he’ll never receive the three gifts necessary to unlock all of his abilities.

HALF BAD starts off oddly — but in a good way. At first I was like, what the heck am I reading? What’s going on? Second-person narrative (You wake up in a cage, you wait for her to arrive, etc.) is tricky to pull off, and it was confusing at the start of the book. But it was a great way to get me into Nathan’s mind, and to see what he was like. So if you’re lost at first, keep going. HALF BAD is worth it.

I read the first half of the book before I knew it, and I didn’t want to stop reading. And after I finished HALF BAD, I kept thinking about it, and wanting to pick it up again. I cannot wait to see what will happen in book two.

Marcus, Nathan’s father, has killed over 200 witches. Killing is just what black witches do. Almost everyone, except for a few members of his family, is sure that Nathan will turn out just like Marcus. But what makes someone bad or good? Is it in their genes or in the way they’re brought up? It turns out to be a little bit of both for Nathan.

I really enjoyed the experience of reading HALF BAD. It’s a book that’s told slowly, a little too slowly in some places, but I didn’t really mind. I was so caught up in Nathan’s development and journey that I didn’t care there wasn’t always a lot going on. I rather enjoyed Nathan’s time in the cage, and while I’m not sure what that says about me, I do like that the author went there. Nathan goes through a lot, so be prepared for some emotional and physical torment.

I’d recommend HALF BAD if you’re looking for a good witch book, or a book with a realistic male main character. I don’t like a lot of guys in books, but I’m pulling for him.

Socialize with the author:

Sally Green:
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– leeanna