Book Review: Red Rising (Red Rising #1) by Pierce Brown

Book Review: Red Rising (Red Rising #1) by Pierce BrownRed Rising by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising #1
Published by Del Rey on January 28, 2014
Genres: Adult, Dystopian, Science Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
5 Stars
The war begins...

Darrow is a Helldiver, one of a thousand men and women who live in the vast caves beneath the surface of Mars. Generations of Helldivers have spent their lives toiling to mine the precious elements that will allow the planet to be terraformed. Just knowing that one day people will be able to walk the surface of the planet is enough to justify their sacrifice. The Earth is dying, and Darrow and his people are the only hope humanity has left.

Until the day Darrow learns that it is all a lie. Mars is habitable - and indeed has been inhabited for generations by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. The Golds regard Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.

With the help of a mysterious group of rebels, Darrow disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside.

But the command school is a battlefield. And Darrow isn't the only student with an agenda...

Book Review:

I bloodydamn loved RED RISING. It was a “stay up until my eyes bleed and keep reading anyway” book. I just couldn’t get enough of Darrow and his dark, violent world, and as soon as I turned the last page, I wanted to read it over.

I hate making comparisons, but if you took The Hunger Games, Lord of the Flies, Ender’s Game, Game of Thrones, and maybe even Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, threw them all together and put them hundreds of years in the future, you have RED RISING. However, this book isn’t a copy of any of those, but you can definitely see elements or inspiration from all of those (and probably more that I missed). Also, mentioning all those is the easiest way I can think of to describe it, since I don’t want to spoil a second of this book.

So, that said, RED RISING is original and super creative. I cannot remember the last time an author has surprised me so much. It’s so packed with action, betrayals, and plot twists that I was never sure who to trust, or even who was good and who was bad. At its deepest, RED RISING is about power. Who has it, who doesn’t, and what to do with it.

RED RISING is the story of Darrow, a 16 year-old miner who lives beneath Mars’s surface. He is a Red, and his job, along with all other Reds, is to prepare Mars for the other Colors. In Pierce Brown’s world, there are castes of colors, with the most powerful, Golds, on top, and the least, Reds, on the bottom. And when I say Darrow’s Red, I mean it — his hair, eyes, and skin are red. Same with the other colors. Browns (servants) are Brown. Grays (police) are Gray. The colors lock everyone into their slot in society, into their specific role and job.

Although Darrow is 16, he reads much older, and so I think RED RISING is a great crossover book, with wide appeal for both teens and adults. Reds mature quickly; at 16, Darrow is already married. He loves his wife Eo more than anything else, and when she is killed for an act of rebellion, her death thrusts Darrow into a search for vengeance and power. The beginning of the book is a bit slow, but it really establishes Darrow’s world and the difficult lives he and the other Reds have, as the “pioneers” of Mars.

Recruited by the Sons of Ares, a rebel group, Darrow undergoes a painful and lengthy transformation into a Gold. I loved that the whole transformation was detailed, since too often that sort of thing is swept over in books. The process was also a good bridge between the “Red world” and the “Gold world,” showing the differences between both. Gold society is influenced by Ancient Greek culture, something else I really liked.

Once Darrow passes the tests for the Institute, that’s when the real story begins. From that point on, I kept trying to flip ahead, because I was so eager to know what would happen next.

RED RISING easily makes my list of favorites, and I cannot wait to read the rest of this trilogy. With such a powerful debut, I know it’s going to be fantastic.

Socialize with the author:

Pierce Brown:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Hatshepsut’s Collar (Artifact Hunters #2) by A.W. Exley

Book Review: Hatshepsut’s Collar (Artifact Hunters #2) by A.W. ExleyHatshepsut's Collar by A.W. Exley
Series: Artifact Hunters #2
Published by Curiosity Quills Press on November 13, 2013
Genres: Adult, Adventure, Romance, Steampunk
Pages: 280
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
4 Stars
"Loving you is easy, it's living with you that's killing me."

An ancient Egyptian artifact is driving Queen Victoria insane, and that's not top of Cara Devon's growing list of problems.

Viscount Nathaniel Lyons is a man of numerous secrets, but there is one in particular that threatens his fledgling relationship with Cara. Stunned by Nate's revelation, and before she can absorb the ramifications of his actions, he is arrested, charged with treason and imprisoned in the grim Tower of London. He stole something the mad queen wants, and only has days to deliver, before his date with the executioner.

Although sorely tempted, Cara can't let him die on Tower Green, not when their connection means she would share his fate.

Only together can Cara and Nate figure out how to wrestle Hatshepsut's Collar from around the queen's neck, before she plunges Britain into a world war. The search for answers sends Cara to the opulent Winter Palace of St Petersburg and the frozen depths of Siberia, with every step shadowed by an enemy with his own dark plans.

Book Review:

Last year, NEFERTITI’S HEART was a book I enjoyed a lot. It’s a quirky, unique book, blending steampunk and Egyptian mythology along with romance and adventure. When I read it in April 2013, I wasn’t sure if it was the start of a series or a standalone, so I was quite pleased to see HATSHEPSUT’S COLLAR come out this year. I couldn’t wait to join Cara and Nate on their next adventure.

And boy, HATSHEPSUT’S COLLAR is one hell of a ride. The book starts about six weeks after the events of NEFERTITI’S HEART, and doesn’t waste too much time recapping the past. I don’t think you need to have read book one to be able to read this book, but you’ll have a better understanding of Cara and Nate’s relationship if you’ve already read NEFERTITI’S HEART.

That fledgling relationship is put to the test when Nate drops a gigantic bombshell on Cara (really, I wanted to take his head off myself). But before Cara react, Queen Victoria’s troops arrest Nate for high treason. Even though she’s tempted to let Nate rot in the Tower, Cara has to help rescue him, because if he dies, so does she, thanks to the bond they have through the Nefertiti’s Heart artifact. Another Egyptian artifact is influencing the queen, the Hatshepsut’s Collar of the book’s title, driving her towards worldwide conquest.

HATSHEPSUT’S COLLAR takes Cara and Nate from England to Russia as they try to clear his name. I really enjoyed the glimpses of the author’s version of St. Petersburg, as well as two new characters, Nikolai and Natalie, acquaintances of Nate’s. They, as well as Loki the air pirate, provided amusement and seriousness, as needed. There’s a good dash of humor amongst the more dangerous moments. There’s nothing like laughing just before or even while characters are charging into danger. I mean, where else can you imagine a pirate blasting Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries as he attacks the Tower of London in an airship?

Cara spends a lot of the book wondering if she should stay with Nate, as she’s tired of him hiding things from her, including Very Big Secrets that impact her too. Even so, they don’t hold back on the physical side of their relationship; they have a lot of sex. I wish those scenes had been more consistent, because some were more explicit than others, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but one or two pulled me out of the story. Until I got to the middle half, that is, where the action really picked up. Then there wasn’t as much time for shenanigans between the sheets, and I couldn’t stop turning the pages. I did like that Cara thought a lot about Nate and their relationship, and just didn’t forgive him off the bat.

HATSHEPSUT’S COLLAR takes everything I enjoyed in NEFERTITI’S HEART, from the world to the action, to kick butt Cara to scene-stealing Loki, and builds upon it. The book is a fun romp through a steampunked London and St. Petersburg, and the ending promises more such adventures for Cara and Nate. Definitely recommended, especially if you want some romance along with your steampunk and mystery.

Socialize with the author:

A.W. Exley:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Chasing the Star Garden (Airship Racing Chronicles #1) by Melanie Karsak

Book Review: Chasing the Star Garden (Airship Racing Chronicles #1) by Melanie KarsakChasing the Star Garden by Melanie Karsak
Series: The Airship Racing Chronicles #1
Published by Clockpunk Press on December 4, 2013
Genres: Adult, Adventure, Romance, Steampunk
Pages: 325
Format: eARC
Source: Blog Tour
Goodreads
4 Stars
An opium-addicted beauty.
An infamous poet living in self-imposed exile.
An ancient treasure about to fall into the wrong hands.

Melanie Karsak's Chasing the Star Garden takes readers on a thrilling adventure from the gritty opium dens of gaslamp London to the gem-colored waters of the ancient world. Lily Stargazer, a loveable but reckless airship racer with a famous lover and shattered past, reluctantly plunges into a centuries-old mystery in a romantic adventure best described as Dan Brown meets Mary Shelley.

It all begins on one of the worst days of Lily’s life. She just lost the London leg of the 1823 Airship Grand Prix. To top it off, a harlequin fleeing from constables shoved a kaleidoscope down her pants, told her to fly to Venice, then threw himself from her airship tower. What’s a girl to do? For Lily, the answer is easy: drink absinthe and smoke opium.

Lily’s lover, Lord Byron, encourages her to make the trip to Venice. Lily soon finds herself at the heart of an ancient mystery which has her running from her past and chasing true love and the stars along the way.

Today on the tour for CHASING THE STAR GARDEN by Melanie Karsak, I have a review. The tour is hosted by Bewitching Book Tours and you can visit the whole schedule here. After my review, there is a tour-wide giveaway.

Book Review:

“In true Lily fashion, I didn’t know I was in trouble until I was already in the middle of it.” (p. 110)

I could liken CHASING THE STAR GARDEN to the absinthe Lily drinks: it’s almost like chasing the green fairy as a fantastical tale unfolds. I had no idea what to expect from the author’s steampunk, airship-filled world, and that’s always something I like, when an author can keep me guessing.

Lily Stargazer races airships, dallies with Lord Byron, smokes opium like it’s going out of style, and all around does whatever she pleases. She captured me from the start of the book, especially when she and Byron got down and dirty after she loses a race. I’ll admit, the first few chapters of CHASING THE STAR GARDEN had me wondering just what I was reading, but once I got further into the book, I can’t imagine having met Lily any other way. She’s a mess of a character, deeply wounded by her past. So it made perfect sense she’d drown her airship race loss in an opium den, and then in Lord Byron.

But as the story in CHASING THE STAR GARDEN ramps up, Lily gradually takes charge of herself. She’s always closed herself off to love due to childhood abuse, preferring casual hook-ups to real relationships. So it’s almost laughable when it turns out she’s the only one who can rescue a famous statue of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Of course, along the way, Lily starts to open herself up to the possibility of having love in her life. I didn’t totally buy the eventual relationship between Lily and Sal, but I was happy for her to find love.

What I liked the most about CHASING THE STAR GARDEN was the complex adventure/mystery. Lily, Sal, and Celeste (a courtesan/priestess of Venus) set off on a journey guided by the stars and ancient myths to find the Aphrodite of Knidos. Celeste wants to keep the statute from falling into the hands of treasure hunters. Their only clues are a kaleidoscope and the stars.

I couldn’t get a full handle on the world, but what was there was quite interesting. There were lots of airship races, both of the racing sort and the run for your life sort. I would have like more information on the world itself, but that’s just because I want to know how airship racing became a sport!

All in all, I enjoyed the wild ride that is CHASING THE STAR GARDEN, and I’m eager to see what else the author has in store for Lily.

Giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*giveaway is tour-wide

About the author:

melanie karsak author of chasing the star gardenMelanie Karsak grew up in rural northwestern Pennsylvania where there was an abysmal lack of entertainment, so she turned to reading and hiking. Apparently, rambling around the woods with a head full of fantasy worlds and characters will inspire you to become an author. Be warned. Melanie wrote her first novel, a gripping piece about a 1920s stage actress, when she was 12. A steampunk connoisseur, white elephant collector, and caffeine junkie, the author now resides in Florida with her husband and two children. Melanie is an Instructor of English at Eastern Florida State College.

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– leeanna

Book Review: Kinslayer (The Lotus War #2) by Jay Kristoff

Book Review: Kinslayer (The Lotus War #2) by Jay KristoffKinslayer by Jay Kristoff
Series: The Lotus War #2
Published by Thomas Dunne Books on September 17, 2013
Genres: Adult, Dystopian, Fantasy, Mythology, Steampunk
Pages: 432
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
5 Stars
A SHATTERED EMPIRE
The mad Shōgun Yoritomo has been assassinated by the Stormdancer Yukiko, and the threat of civil war looms over the Shima Imperium. The Lotus Guild conspires to renew the nation’s broken dynasty and crush the growing rebellion simultaneously – by endorsing a new Shōgun who desires nothing more than to see Yukiko dead.

A DARK LEGACY
Yukiko and the mighty thunder tiger Buruu have been cast in the role of heroes by the Kagé rebellion. But Yukiko herself is blinded by rage over her father’s death, and her ability to hear the thoughts of beasts is swelling beyond her power to control. Along with Buruu, Yukiko’s anchor is Kin, the rebel Guildsman who helped her escape from Yoritomo’s clutches. But Kin has his own secrets, and is haunted by visions of a future he’d rather die than see realized.

A GATHERING STORM
Kagé assassins lurk within the Shōgun’s palace, plotting to end the new dynasty before it begins. A waif from Kigen’s gutters begins a friendship that could undo the entire empire. A new enemy gathers its strength, readying to push the fracturing Shima imperium into a war it cannot hope to survive. And across raging oceans, amongst islands of black glass, Yukiko and Buruu will face foes no katana or talon can defeat.

The ghosts of a blood-stained past.

Book Review:

THIS IS MY HELL, I SWEAR IT. WHEN I PASS INTO THE AFTERLIFE AND AM PUNISHED FOR MY SINS, THIS WILL BE MY TORMENT. SURROUNDED BY A SEA OF MOONING, ADOLESCENT MONKEY-BOYS. MUDDLING ABOUT IN PUDDLES OF THEIR OWN DRIBBLE. –Buruu (ARC, p. 34)

Here’s all I really need to say about KINSLAYER: This Book Is GAHHH! SO GOOD.

It will rip your heart into a million pieces, tramp all over your soul, and make you think. Author Jay Kristoff has NO boundaries, and I mean that in the best possible way. He doesn’t shy away from anything, and really, really likes to torture his characters just as much as he enjoys torturing the reader. KINSLAYER is dark, but rightfully so, as it takes place in a world almost destroyed by greed. A world where the blood of foreigners is the fertilizer for fields, and the main crop of the country destroys the land as it grows.

KINSLAYER is a super creative combination of steampunk, dystopia, and fantasy, with a strong Japanese influence. There’s a little something for everyone: betrayal, romance, revolution, war, mythical creatures, awesome weapons … I could go on and on. I’ve never read anything like The Lotus War trilogy, and I think KINSLAYER is even better than the first book, STORMDANCER. (My book review of STORMDANCER)

Right off the bat, KINSLAYER has a great start: there’s a recap of the important characters, what they did, and what happened to them in book one. I love that there was a recap instead of chapters of reminding the reader what went on before. Also, I thought there was less information overload than in STORMDANCER, probably because you should already have a good idea of the world and its customs. I’ll admit, I had forgotten pretty much everything that happened in STORMDANCER, but within pages, I slid right back into Jay’s world and characters without any trouble.

Another great thing: I had no idea what was going to happen during the book. Usually the middle book of a trilogy is just a bridge between one and three, but I don’t think that’s the case here. There’s SO much going on in KINSLAYER. Yukiko and Buruu aren’t the only important characters anymore, something I was a bit sad about at first, because I really do love Buruu, as well as the bond the two have. Many characters have their say, from Michi, the handmaiden to princess Aisha; Kin, a Lotusman who betrayed his people; and even Hiro, the new Shogun, and Yukiko’s former lover. All of their parts weave together to tell as many sides of the story as possible, and I have to say, I’m kind of scared for the rebellion. I don’t see how the rebels can win, even with arashitora on their side.

As I’ve said, KINSLAYER is a dark, dark book. Personally, I adore that sort of thing, and I don’t think any of the violence or torture or other bad things are just thrown in there for shock value. There are some parts where you’ll be wincing, I guarantee it. But it’s well worth it.

Socialize with the author:

Jay Kristoff:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Brimstone Angels (Forgotten Realms) by Erin M. Evans

Book Review: Brimstone Angels (Forgotten Realms) by Erin M. EvansBrimstone Angels by Erin M. Evans
Series: Forgotten Realms
Published by Wizards of the Coast on November 1, 2011
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 339
Format: Paperback
Source: Own
Goodreads
4 Stars
Rejected at birth and raised in a village of tiefling misfits, Farideh expects a life without friends, love, or control over her destiny. Then she makes a pact with a devil named Lorcan, and everything changes.

Lorcan promises all she ever dreamed of and asks for nothing in return. Her twin sister Havilar urges Farideh to resist the devil’s sway. But Farideh’s not so sure. Lorcan may be dangerous but the power he offers is exhilarating.

In the ruins of Neverwinter, Farideh’s doubts get tangled up in a devilish snare six layers deep. A succubus playing human pawns against an otherworldly foe sees the twins as obstacles in her path. And Lorcan’s monstrous sisters have their eyes on the city—and on Farideh. There’s no time to question her pact with Lorcan—it will take every ounce of Farideh’s newfound powers to get out of Neverwinter alive.

Book Review:

Usually when I read books set in the Forgotten Realm universe, I pick ones about drow or elves. Mainly drow, because who doesn’t like power-hungry, evil, chaotic baddies? I love ‘em.

Starring a tiefling warlock and her twin, BRIMSTONE ANGELS is outside of what I normally read in the Realms. In fact, I didn’t even know what a tiefling was, because I don’t keep up with the different changes to the tabletop game. I just read the books.

For those not in the know, tieflings are the ancestors of humans who bred with fiends. Tieflings have a pretty bad rap because of what someone further up in their family tree did, and twins Farideh and Havilar have dealt with it ever since they were abandoned as babies. Adopted by a dragonborn, they’ve had a quiet life. Havilar thirsts for adventure, but cautious Farideh covers up most of her sister’s mistakes.

Until the day Farideh comes home and finds her sister has summoned a devil. Coerced into making a warlock pact by smooth-talking Lorcan, Farideh gets herself, her sister, and their dragonborn father kicked out of their village. Mehen, their father, doesn’t want Farideh to have anything to do with the pact, but Farideh both likes and dislikes the attention from Lorcan. The sister/sister, father/daughter, and warlock/devil relationships make for some interesting conflicts.

From the start of BRIMSTONE ANGELS, I was hooked. The author develops her characters nicely, making them more than just the warlock or the devil. I liked Farideh a lot. Her internal struggles, from wanting to be seen as anything other than an evil tiefling, to liking her new warlock powers yet knowing she shouldn’t — had me nodding my head. Lorcan, her devil, was intriguing too. I wanted to know why he was collecting warlocks, and he didn’t have the personality I’d expect from a demon. And while the ending of this book wraps up most of its storylines, there is an opening for a sequel. Which is good for me, because I want to continue Farideh’s story, and find out more about Lorcan.

The author also does a decent job of catching readers up if they haven’t kept track of all the changes in the Realms. I knew a little about the Spellplague, but nothing about the destruction of Neverwinter.

The ending was the only part of the book that didn’t quite click for me. I was a bit confused trying to figure out what was going on with Glasya, Neverwinter, and the Abolethic Sovereignty. But other than the ending, the book was written smoothly, and easy to read. Some of the other books I’ve read in the Realms verge almost on fanfic-style writing, but that wasn’t the case with BRIMSTONE ANGELS.

Let’s talk about it:

Have you ever read series that have spanned decades?

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Erin M. Evans:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Board Stiff (Xanth #38) by Piers Anthony

Book Review: Board Stiff (Xanth #38) by Piers AnthonyBoard Stiff by Piers Anthony
Series: Xanth #38
Published by Premier Digital Publishing on December 17, 2013
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 250
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Goodreads
3 Stars
Be careful what you wish for...

"I'm actually a smart girl who would make any man an excellent wife. But no man sees that. No man is interested in my mind or personality, just my whatevers. So here is my wish: I'm board stiff. I want Adventure, Excitement, and Romance.”

So begins Piers Anthony's 38th Xanth novel, in which Irrelevant Candy, looks at her reflection in the water of the shallow well and sees luxuriant midnight black hair to her breathtakingly slender waist, matching dark eyes in a lovely face. A torso coming yea-close to absolute perfection. She was man's desire. That was part of the problem.

And in the shallow magic of a wishing well, she asks her wish to be granted. Something happens. A sudden whirlwind surrounds her, lifting her up and ripping off her clothing. She is changing, somehow. Then she falls flat on the ground.

Literally. She has been transformed into a flat, stiff board with two knotholes for eyes.

My Review:

BOARD STIFF is the 38th entry in the Xanth series. If you’re new to the world of Xanth, don’t worry — this isn’t a series you have to read in order. You could pick up this book as your entry to the series and not be lost at all. The books in the series are mostly stand-alone adventures, and if you need to know something from a previous book, you get filled in quickly.

The plot revolves around a Quest to save Xanth’s puns from a pun-destroying virus. Ease, a typical male, goes to the Good Magician to ask for the perfect weapon, the perfect adventure, or the perfect woman. He undertakes the Quest as his service, and accompanying him is a wide array of characters, including a basilisk transformed to human form. What he doesn’t know (but the reader does) is that Ease is about to get everything he wants, he just has to realize he has it all.

For also accompanying Ease is a wooden board. The wooden board is actually a woman, Irrelevant Kandy, who asked a magical wishing well for Adventure, Excitement, and Romance. As a board and Ease’s weapon, Kandy can influence his thoughts, keeping him from being too much of a stupid dude. That’s where the title, BOARD STIFF, comes from.

For the most part, BOARD STIFF is a pretty good Xanth book. I’ve been a Xanth fan for a long time (since 1995 or 1996), and generally prefer the earlier books in the series. They’re more about the land of Xanth and its people rather than the latter books, some of which are chock full of puns. And yes, I know puns are part of the magic of Xanth — I just don’t want to read a veritable list of them. That said, I think BOARD STIFF has an okay balance. There were a few points when I took a break from the book (pun overload), but for the most part, the plot kept me reading. It’s not the first time Xanth has been in danger, but I wasn’t sure how the group would save it.

In this book, I liked Com Pewter quite a bit. He gets pulled into the Quest, and though in the past he was just an annoying machine for other characters to deal with, in BOARD STIFF, he’s a lot more interesting. He becomes more human-like, learning what friends are. I liked him more than Ease or Kandy, both of whom were a bit too preoccupied with their dream partner, as well as matters relating to the Adult Conspiracy.

If you’re new to Xanth, you could dive right in with this book. There’s more than enough explanation of how things work, and that was one of my minor complaints. Every time the characters met someone new, or went to a new place, they introduced themselves and their various missions over and over. I don’t need multiple reminders of who everyone is and what they’re doing. Or multiple reminders that a basilisk, even in human form, is dangerous. And so on.

Overall, if you’re a Xanth fan, you’ll probably enjoy BOARD STIFF. It follows the usual story: someone with a question visits the Good Magician, sets off on a quest to save Xanth, and discovers the answer to their question on the journey. The main parts of BOARD STIFF are resolved by its end, although some of the story is left open for Xanth #39 to continue.

Socialize with the author:

Piers Anthony:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Roses Have Thorns (Ladies in Waiting #3) by Sandra Byrd

Book Review: Roses Have Thorns (Ladies in Waiting #3) by Sandra ByrdRoses Have Thorns by Sandra Byrd
Series: Ladies in Waiting #3
Published by Simon & Schuster on April 9, 2013
Genres: Adult, Historical Fiction
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Goodreads
4 Stars
From the acclaimed author of To Die For comes a stirring novel told that sheds new light on Elizabeth I and her court. Sandra Byrd has attracted countless fans for evoking the complexity, grandeur, and brutality of the Tudor period. In her latest tour de force, she poses the question: What happens when serving a queen may cost you your marriage—or your life?

In 1565, seventeen-year-old Elin von Snakenborg leaves Sweden on a treacherous journey to England. Her fiance has fallen in love with her sister and her dowry money has been gambled away, but ahead of her lies an adventure that will take her to the dizzying heights of Tudor power. Transformed through marriage into Helena, the Marchioness of Northampton, she becomes the highest-ranking woman in Elizabeth’s circle. But in a court that is surrounded by Catholic enemies who plot the queen’s downfall, Helena is forced to choose between an unyielding monarch and the husband she’s not sure she can trust—a choice that will provoke catastrophic consequences.

Vividly conjuring the years leading up to the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots, Roses Have Thorns is a brilliant exploration of treason, both to the realm and to the heart.

My Review:

Set in Tudor England, during the reign of Elizabeth I, ROSES HAVE THORNS has a unique hook. The book is told from the viewpoint of Elin Ulfsdotter Snakenborg, a Swedish noble woman. Elin eventually becomes Helena, Marchioness of Northampton, the highest woman in the land after the queen.

One of the coolest things for me about this book was that Helena was a real person. The author explains she learned about Helena while doing research for the second book in the Ladies in Waiting trilogy, THE SECRET KEEPER. In ROSES HAVE THORNS, one of the biggest aspects of the book is Helena’s friendship (of a sorts) with Elizabeth. In the Afterword, the author says that she inferred that friendship, but it’s not too crazy of a leap to make. I appreciated the information the author provided in the Afterword, because when I read historical fiction, I like to know what’s historical and what’s fiction.

Since March 2013, I’ve actually read ROSES HAVE THORNS about two and a half times. Obviously, I liked the book quite a bit, and I also liked Helena’s voice. The book spans about 40 years, and is Helena’s story as well as Elizabeth’s. Helena grows up, losing the veil of naivety, and Elizabeth grows more secure in her queenship. Secondly, the author’s writing is very smooth and informative, and it’s one of those books I can flip to any page and start reading.

The long time span covered is the biggest issue I had with the book. Because the book spans so much time, it was sometimes hard to determine how much time had passed in a chapter. Several chapters span two or three years, and so from one passage to the next, several months or a year might have passed.

I have read, and will read many more, books set in the Tudor period. I find it a fascinating era of history, and enjoy seeing how different authors approach it. After finishing ROSES HAVE THORNS, I can’t wait to check out the rest of Sandra Byrd’s Ladies in Waiting series. It’s a series you don’t have to read in order, as each focuses on a different queen and one of her women.

Let’s talk about it:

How accurate do you like your historical fiction to be?

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Sandra Byrd:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Dark Angel by T.J. Bennett

Book Review: Dark Angel by T.J. BennettDark Angel by T.J. Bennett
Published by Entangled Publishing on October 21, 2013
Genres: Adult, Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Romance
Pages: 224
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
4 Stars
When young widow Catherine Briton is washed ashore, the sole survivor of a violent shipwreck, all she wants is to go home to London. But injured as she is, she can’t escape when a shadowy stranger rescues her and takes her to his castle—where she’s healed with suspicious, almost magical speed.

The more time Catherine spends in the castle, the more her curiosity rises where her fiercely handsome new "master," Gerard, is concerned. As she begins to investigate, though, her discoveries only bring more questions. It seems Gerard isn't the only one on the island keeping secrets…

The small town is full of strange mysteries and townspeople who know more than they should about her. And when a hulking beast that stalks the nearby hills and valleys catches up to her, Catherine must figure out what’s going on before it’s too late.

My Review:
DARK ANGEL is a sumptuous, Gothic-inspired, fairy tale romance. If you like strong heroines, tortured heroes, sizzling romantic tension, and a well-written story, this might be the book for you.

I’ll admit this right off: I’m not the biggest fan of romance or romantic relationships. I almost always criticize them, because I’m picky. But books published by Entangled have never let me down. DARK ANGEL is no exception.

The book’s style might take some getting used to, because the author is very descriptive. I like that sort of writing when it’s done well, and I thought it was done well here. The lush descriptions help set the scene, as well as build the characters of Catherine and Gerard. I want to say it’s almost Victorian in style; I can’t say for sure, not having read books written in that era.

DARK ANGEL starts off strong and dangerously, with Catherine in a lifeboat in the middle of the sea. Overboard after a disaster, she sees an island, or thinks she does. When she entreats the captain to set sail for the island, he refuses to, for only the dead and dying see it. After the lifeboat turns over, Catherine wakes up to find herself on the shores of that island, and that’s where the real story begins….

The island, Ynys Nos, is like no other place Catherine has ever seen. And for an English gentlewoman, she’s seen quite a lot, having given up her privileged life to help the less fortunate. She was even a nurse in the Crimean War. But even more compelling than the mysterious island is its master, Gerard. Gerard takes Catherine into his home, sparking off an intense battle of wills between the two.

There’s an immediate attraction between them, but Catherine fights it every step of the way. Gerard does everything he can to make her give in. There is PLENTY of blazing romantic tension, which is something I enjoyed.

Gerard is the epitome of a tortured, dark hero, with so many secrets that he needs a vault the size of Fort Knox to keep them all. He’s an alpha male, supremely confident in himself and in his ability to seduce Catherine. Usually such confidence and a “you’re mine” attitude bugs the heck out of me, but I liked it here. It just fit the overall story. Plus, his vulnerabilities helped balance out the alpha attitude. Beneath the big strong male, there’s a little boy who grew up without friends and the weight of the island on his shoulders.

DARK ANGEL has a mystery behind the romance, and a few paranormal touches. Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite fairy tales, and it also influences the book. Overall, it’s a very atmospheric read. I sometimes thought I was on the island, following Catherine as she tried to figure out all the mysteries and gets answers for Gerard’s secrets.

The ending did leave me wanting a little more, but that was mainly because I didn’t want to leave Catherine and Gerard’s story. The book does move along a bit slowly, due to the descriptive writing and setting everything up, but that wasn’t a con for me. I was too caught up in the mystery of Ynys Nos, as well as the growing relationship between Catherine and Gerard.

I’d recommend DARK ANGEL if you like romances, historical fiction, or paranormal. There’s a little something for everyone here.

Socialize with the author:
T.J. Bennett:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Boleyn King (The Boleyn Trilogy #1) by Laura Andersen

Book Review: The Boleyn King (The Boleyn Trilogy #1) by Laura AndersenThe Boleyn King by Laura Andersen
Series: The Boleyn Trilogy #1
Published by Ballantine Books on May 14, 2013
Genres: Adult, Alternate Universe, Historical Fiction, Romance
Pages: 358
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
4 Stars
The Boleyn King is the first novel in an enthralling new trilogy. Reimagining history in sumptuous detail, Laura Andersen takes readers back to the deadly intrigue, turbulent affairs, and treacherous passions of Tudor England - and answers the compelling question What if Anne Boleyn had given Henry VIII the son he so desperately wanted?

Just seventeen years old, Henry IX, known as William, is a king bound by the restraints of the regency yet anxious to prove himself. With the French threatening battle and the Catholics sowing the seeds of rebellion at home, William trusts only three people: his older sister Elizabeth; his best friend and loyal counselor, Dominic; and Minuette, a young orphan raised as a royal ward by William's mother, Anne Boleyn.

Against a tide of secrets, betrayal, and murder, William finds himself fighting for the very soul of his kingdom. Then, when he and Dominic both fall in love with Minuette, romantic obsession looms over a new generation of Tudors. One among them will pay the price for a king's desire, as a shocking twist of fate changes England's fortunes forever.

My Review:
THE BOLEYN KING is an alternate universe historical fiction novel. If you’re new to the term “alternate universe,” all it means is that the author takes a moment in history and changes it, to see what would happen. A big what-if.

The what-if for this book asks what would have happened if, instead of miscarrying, Anne Boleyn had given birth to a baby boy in 1536. For those of you who aren’t history buffs, in May 1536, Henry VIII executed Anne.

So, what would have changed if Anne’s son lived? And became king after his father? What would have changed and what would have stayed the same?

I’ve been waiting for a book like THE BOLEYN KING for a long time, and I’m happy to say the book delivers. Laura Andersen does a brilliant job with the characters, plot, and politics. William is a believable combination of his parents, with traits from Anne and Henry showing up in his personality and actions. Elizabeth is reminiscent of the Elizabeth I we all know, strong yet fearful that she’ll be married off to a foreign prince. She’s also got a candle for Robert Dudley, just like the real Elizabeth did.

THE BOLEYN KING is told from four points of view: William and Elizabeth, and two original characters: Minuette and Dominic. Minuette is Queen Anne’s ward, the daughter of one of her ladies-in-waiting. Dominic is Dominic Courtenay, William’s best friend and the only person who tells him the truth. The four have a tight friendship, one that becomes even tighter when they investigate a murder and mysterious plot that could topple William from the throne.

I was totally immersed in this book: in court life, the politics, the intrigue, going to war, and so on. I liked all four of the main characters, and I can’t wait to continue their stories, and dig deeper into the Tudor England the author has imagined. What I like most, I think, is that other than Anne having a son that lived and became king, there aren’t a ton of changes. Religion is still an issue, so are the French and Spanish.

I didn’t give 5 stars for THE BOLEYN KING because I wanted more to happen in it. The ending is almost a cliffhanger, and I’m the type of reader that wants more closure at the end of the book, even if it is the first in a series. Fortunately, I don’t want to wait too long to find out what happens next; book two in the trilogy, THE BOLEYN DECEIT, comes out November 2013.

Let’s talk about it:
What do you think about alternate history? Creative or boring?

Socialize with the author:
Laura Andersen:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Her Ladyship’s Curse (Disenchanted & Co. #1) by Lynn Viehl

Book Review: Her Ladyship’s Curse (Disenchanted & Co. #1) by Lynn ViehlHer Ladyship's Curse by Lynn Viehl
Series: Disenchanted & Co. #1
Published by Pocket Star on August 12, 2013
Genres: Adult, Alternate Universe, Romance, Steampunk, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 200
Format: ARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
3 Stars
In a steampunk version of America that lost the Revolutionary War, Charmian (Kit) Kittredge makes her living investigating magic crimes and exposing the frauds behind them. While Kit tries to avoid the nobs of high society, as the proprietor of Disenchanted & Co. she follows mysteries wherever they lead.

Lady Diana Walsh calls on Kit to investigate and dispel the curse she believes responsible for carving hateful words into her own flesh as she sleeps. While Kit doesn’t believe in magic herself, she can’t refuse to help a woman subjected nightly to such vicious assaults. As Kit investigates the Walsh family, she becomes convinced that the attacks on Diana are part of a larger, more ominous plot—one that may involve the lady’s obnoxious husband.

Sleuthing in the city of Rumsen is difficult enough, but soon Kit must also skirt the unwanted attentions of nefarious deathmage Lucien Dredmore and the unwelcome scrutiny of police Chief Inspector Thomas Doyle. Unwilling to surrender to either man’s passion for her, Kit struggles to remain independent as she draws closer to the heart of the mystery. Yet as she learns the truth behind her ladyship’s curse, Kit also uncovers a massive conspiracy that promises to ruin her life—and turn Rumsen into a supernatural battleground from which no one will escape alive.

My Review:
I tried logic. “I presume your husband’s first wife died before he married you?” When she nodded, I asked, “How is it that she would even know about you, much less cast a curse on you from the grave?” (p. 6-7)

Charmian Kittredge, aka Kit, doesn’t believe in magic. She’s based her business on that belief, “disenchanting” those who fall for parlor tricks and charismatic mages or tellers. Whenever someone comes to her and says they’re cursed, as Lady Diana Walsh does, Kit knows there’s a logical solution, and she investigates until she finds the truth.

But getting involved in Lady Walsh’s case brings Kit a world of trouble. Before she knows it, she’s almost arrested, attacked by snuffmages, drugged, and oh yeah, pursued by a deathmage.

The world Viehl has created for HER LADYSHIP’S CURSE is an interesting one, and probably one of my favorite parts of the book. It’s an alternate version of San Francisco, but in a world where the Crown still rules. There’s a lot of steampunk devices, from carris (steam-driven carriages) to a tube system that delivers items from building to building, that make life easier. Unfortunately, independence for women isn’t one of Rumsen’s advances, and Kit struggles to run a business and live her life the way she wants in a male-dominated world. And while the worldbuilding was one of the things I liked best about the book, there were a few times when I was confused about how the world had come to be. I think the short length of the book (more on that later) prevented me from learning as much as I would have liked.

I had a love-hate relationship with Kit. She’s pretty bold and brassy, and has to be in order to live as a single woman in Rumsen. There’s even a point where she dresses up like a native in order to get into an area only males can access. But whenever she encounters Lucien Dredmore, deathmage of Toriana, her personality totally changes. Kit HATES Lucien, and rightfully so — he’s not a nice guy. There was a time when he even gagged her and put his hands on her, without her consent, but when they kiss — still without her wanting to — she melts. I know some readers like that kind of thing, the Alpha male getting what he wants. But I’m not one of them, so I had a hard time with the attraction between them.

What I did like about HER LADYSHIP’S CURSE, other than the alternate America, was the mystery of Lady Walsh’s curse, Kit’s past, and Kit’s friends. While reading, I had no clue how the first two would conclude, and at the end of the book, I still don’t know. But it was a nicely twisty ride, with some clues that magic may be real after all. As for Kit’s friends — one’s a brothel owner and the other is the premiere dressmaker in the city. Just like Kit, they have colorful personalities, and I look forward to reading more about them.

I’m not sure why the publisher did this, but I believe HER LADYSHIP’S CURSE is the first half of a book. It’s about two hundred pages, so there’s not a ton of room for worldbuilding or relationship development. We get a whopping of a cliffhanger and then see “Read part 2 to find out what happens next!” If, like me, you’re not a fan of being left hanging, wait until October so you can read both parts of the book.

Socialize with the author:
Lynn Viehl:
Website

– leeanna