Book Review: The Stargazer’s Sister by Carrie Brown

Book Review: The Stargazer’s Sister by Carrie BrownThe Stargazer's Sister by Carrie Brown
Published by Pantheon on January 19, 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
3 Stars
From the acclaimed author of The Last First Day: a beautiful new period novel—a nineteenth-century story of female empowerment before its time—based on the life of Caroline Herschel, sister of the great astronomer William Herschel and an astronomer in her own right.

This exquisitely imagined novel opens as the great astronomer and composer William Herschel rescues his sister Caroline from a life of drudgery in Germany and brings her to England and a world of music-making and stargazing. Lina, as Caroline is known, serves as William’s assistant and the captain of his exhilaratingly busy household. William is generous, wise, and charismatic, an obsessive genius whom Lina adores and serves with the fervency of a beloved wife. When William suddenly announces that he will be married, Lina watches as her world collapses.

With her characteristically elegant prose, Brown creates from history a compelling story of familial collaboration and conflict, the sublime beauty of astronomy, and the small but essential place we have within a vast and astonishing cosmos. Through Lina’s trials and successes, we witness the dawning of an early feminist consciousness, of a woman struggling to find her own place among the stars.

Book Review:

Before coming across THE STARGAZER’S SISTER, I had never heard of Caroline Herschel. Now that I know more about her, I’m sad she’s been lost to history, likely because she was overshadowed by her more famous brother, and also because she was a woman.

THE STARGAZER’S SISTER is not a feel good book. But I think it is realistic of a woman’s life in the late 1700s. Lina’s early life is cruel, including an abusive mother and typhus. Typhus condemns her to an even crueller future, as it marks her face and body, leaving her unsuitable for marriage. When brother William rescues her, bringing her to England to assist his research, life is still difficult. But for the first time ever, Lina is happy — even if all of her genius does go towards supporting William and his eventual discoveries.

I did enjoy reading about Lina, especially her later life, when she had more independence and made her own astronomical observations. But I did have trouble understanding Lina’s intense devotion to William. I also wasn’t a fan of the literary style of THE STARGAZER’S SISTER, but that’s because I’m not a fan of literary books. If you’re expecting straight-up historical fiction, you might want to check out a sample of the book.

Socialize with the author:

Carrie Brown:
Website

– leeanna

Book Review: Mata Hari’s Last Dance by Michelle Moran

Book Review: Mata Hari’s Last Dance by Michelle MoranMata Hari's Last Dance by Michelle Moran
Published by Touchstone on July 19, 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 288
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
3 Stars
From the international bestselling author of Rebel Queen and Nefertiti comes a captivating novel about the infamous Mata Hari, exotic dancer, adored courtesan, and, possibly, relentless spy.

Paris, 1917. The notorious dancer Mata Hari sits in a cold cell awaiting freedom…or death. Alone and despondent, Mata Hari is as confused as the rest of the world about the charges she’s been arrested on: treason leading to the deaths of thousands of French soldiers.

As Mata Hari waits for her fate to be decided, she relays the story of her life to a reporter who is allowed to visit her in prison. Beginning with her carefree childhood, Mata Hari recounts her father’s cruel abandonment of her family as well her calamitous marriage to a military officer. Taken to the island of Java, Mata Hari refuses to be ruled by her abusive husband and instead learns to dance, paving the way to her stardom as Europe’s most infamous dancer.

From exotic Indian temples and glamorous Parisian theatres to stark German barracks in war-torn Europe, international bestselling author Michelle Moran who “expertly balances fact and fiction” (Associated Press) brings to vibrant life the famed world of Mata Hari: dancer, courtesan, and possibly, spy.

Book Review:

I’ve read Michelle Moran’s novels set in Ancient Egypt several times, so I was interested to try something of hers set in a different time period. Mata Hari is one of those names I’ve always known without knowing much about the actual person.

The book starts with a news article detailing Hari’s conviction as a spy and death by firing squad in 1917. I think that’s what everyone knows about her, so it makes sense to start there. Then MATA HARI’S LAST DANCE goes back to 1904, when Mata Hari starts creating the legend of Mata Hari in Paris.

The beginning of MATA HARI’S LAST DANCE was great. I thought the author did a good job of developing Mata Hari’s character and the glitzy pre-war period. Mata Hari isn’t always likeable, but I understood her choices and actions.

I think the summary for the book is a tad misleading, as I expected a chronological account of Mata Hari’s life. Instead, she recounts her past in flashbacks, sharing with her lawyer/agent, Edouard Clunet. Is she sharing the truth, or merely how she remembers events? Mata Hari’s a somewhat unreliable narrator, which I enjoyed. I never knew when she was telling the truth or lying or embellishing.

And it’s her habit of lying and embellishing that gets her into trouble. As the book went on, I could see how Mata Hari’s actions and words led to her conviction as a spy. Michelle Moran neatly planted that stake in the ground, raising the tension until Mata Hari’s trial and execution. But I do wish that more time had been spent explaining the political tensions of the war, as the last third of the book went too quickly for me. I felt like I was missing some critical connection or plot thread. Which does make sense in a way, because Mata Hari was unable to hear much of the crucial evidence against her because it was classified. But I wish there had been some way for the author to make everything clearer to the reader.

Socialize with the author:

Michelle Moran:
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– leeanna

Book Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

Book Review: And I Darken by Kiersten WhiteAnd I Darken by Kiersten White
Series: The Conquerors Saga #1
Published by Delacorte Press on June 28, 2016
Genres: Alternate Universe, Historical Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 496
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
4 Stars
NO ONE EXPECTS A PRINCESS TO BE BRUTAL.

And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, who’s expected to rule a nation, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

Book Review:

AND I DARKEN asks one very cool question: what if Vlad the Impaler had been a girl? That was all I needed to pick up this book, because I really liked the idea of gender-swapping Vlad into Lada.

THE GOOD:

–Lada. Lada is the real standout of AND I DARKEN. I absolutely loved that she was vicious and mean. Sometimes she’s almost a silly caricature (because she’s always so bloodthirsty), but I so adored having a female character who didn’t want to be liked and didn’t care about what other people thought of her. If I were Lada, stuck in her world where women were supposed to embroider and be gentle and marry like chattel for the advantage of their fathers, I’d be just as nasty and determined to find my own way. Vlad the Impaler didn’t have an easy childhood, and neither does Lada.

–The love triangle. I’m quite surprised that I liked the love triangle aspect of this book. Well, I liked some of it. There’s no obvious choice here. Mehmed really could have Lada or Radu or both. I liked that the author explored the toxic branches of the triangle, the jealousy and hard choices it made for Lada and Radu.

THE BAD:

–Too long. AND I DARKEN is almost 500 pages. It’s the first book in a trilogy. AND I DARKEN is way too long. There were parts where I wanted to put the book down and take a snooze. I appreciate the author trying to make sure the reader understood the various politics of the time, but I wish she had condensed some of it.

–Mehmed. I didn’t like Mehmed at all. I didn’t really know why Lada and Radu were both attracted to him. The author kept telling me he was charismatic and a great guy, but she never showed me he was. She did show me he was a jerk — I can’t believe he told Lada the women of the harem were just a duty, not special like she was. I can’t see vicious Lada buying that, can you?

Overall, I liked the idea of AND I DARKEN. The execution was off at times, but it’s a series I would continue. I need more of Lada in my life!

Socialize with the author:

Kiersten White:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen by Alison Weir

Book Review: Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen by Alison WeirKatherine of Aragon, The True Queen by Alison Weir
Series: Six Tudor Queens #1
Published by Ballantine Books on May 31, 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 624
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
5 Stars
The lives of Henry VIII's queens make for dramatic stories and Alison Weir will write a series of novels that offer insights into the real lives of the six wives based on extensive research and new theories.

In all the romancing, has anyone regarded the evidence that Anne Boleyn did not love Henry VIII? Or that Prince Arthur, Katherine of Aragon's first husband, who is said to have loved her in fact cared so little for her that he willed his personal effects to his sister? Or that Henry VIII, an over-protected child and teenager, was prudish when it came to sex? That Jane Seymour, usually portrayed as Henry's one true love, had the makings of a matriarch? There is much to reveal ...

Alison will write about the wives in the context of their own age and of the court intrigues that surrounded these women and - without exception - wrecked their lives. She will transport readers into a lost and vivid world of splendour and brutality: a world in which love, or the game of it, dominates all.

Book Review:

Alison Weir can be hit or miss for me, but I knew she would do a good job with Katherine of Aragon. And she did. I read the book once, and I’m already into my second read!

KATHERINE OF ARAGON, THE TRUE QUEEN is one of the most complete fictional accounts of Katherine’s life that I’ve read. There are three parts, each covering a major period of Katherine’s life in England: The Princess from Spain, The Queen of England, and The True Queen.

I really liked all the little details the author put into the book. Such as Arthur leaving his personal effects to his sister, not his wife. Or Henry being a virgin just like Katherine. Or Katherine enjoying sex. Or Katherine possibly putting the initial doubts in Henry’s head, about the validity of the pope’s dispensation. And so on. Alison Weir made Katherine feel like a flesh and blood person, not just a famous historical figure.

In the Author’s Note, Alison Weir said she wanted to show Katherine in the context of the time which she lived, when women didn’t have the independence they do today. Looking back, it’s hard to see how Katherine rolled over for all of Henry’s misdeeds, and thought Cardinal Wolsey and Anne Boleyn were the architects of everything, instead of giving Henry his fair share of the blame. But I can understand it, because Katherine was raised that way, to believe that her husband was her lord, and that her duty as wife and queen was to please him first. It’s hard to read at times, but I think the author accomplished her goal of showing the context of Katherine’s life.

I also liked how much attention the author gave to the religious side of Katherine and Henry’s divorce. I’ve read a lot of books about Katherine, but I can’t recall many going so into the religious implications of Henry’s actions regarding the dispensation and eventual departure from the Catholic church.

Lastly, Anne Boleyn is such a villain in this book that I can’t wait to see how the author will portray her sympathetically in the next book in the series.

I recommend KATHERINE OF ARAGON, THE TRUE QUEEN if:
a) you’re a Tudorphile
b) you like historical fiction

Socialize with the author:

Alison Weir:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Darkest Hour by Caroline Tung Richmond

Book Review: The Darkest Hour by Caroline Tung RichmondThe Darkest Hour by Caroline Tung Richmond
Published by Scholastic on July 26, 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
3 Stars
Never underestimate a pretty face.

My name is Lucie Blaise.

I am sixteen years old.

I have many aliases, but I am none of the girls you see.

What I am is the newest agent of the CO-7.

And we are here to take down Hitler.

After the Nazis killed my brother on the North African front, I volunteered at the Office of Strategic Services in Washington, DC, to do my part for the war effort. Only instead of a desk job at the OSS, I was tapped to join the Clandestine Operations -- a secret espionage and sabotage organization of girls. Six months ago, I was deployed to German-occupied France to gather intelligence and eliminate Nazi targets.

My current mission: Track down and interrogate a Nazi traitor about a weapon that threatens to wipe out all of Western Europe. Then find and dismantle the weapon before Hitler detonates it. But the deeper I infiltrate, the more danger I'm in. Because the fate of the free world hangs in the balance, and trusting the wrong person could cause millions of lives to be lost. Including my own.

Book Review:

At the start of THE DARKEST HOUR, Lucie’s biggest concern is successfully completing a mission and earning her title of “agent” in Covert Ops. But before she knows it, she’s in action up to her eyeballs, debating whether or not to trust a Nazi defector who has deadly knowledge about a new superweapon.

I was originally interested in THE DARKEST HOUR because, female teenage secret agents? I gobble that kind of thing up with a big spoon. I didn’t know what else to expect from the book, because the summary’s sort of vague. I was pleasantly surprised by where the author took Lucie — there were definitely some twists I never saw coming. The action was nonstop.

There was no romance in THE DARKEST HOUR, which I was super happy about. One, ain’t nobody got time for that when you’re trying to take down a Nazi superweapon, and two, not every YA book needs a romance to be complete. I was so happy that Lucie wasn’t swooning over every boy she met, but instead thinking about the best place to stick a knife.

The last third of the book is where things took a downturn for me. I can’t really say why without spoiling everything, but I found Lucie’s recovery, and thus the ending, a bit unbelievable. I wanted to see her process what happened, rather than pick up a few months later and everything’s a-okay. I also saw through the big twist early on, which lessened the dramatic impact of the book for me.

Socialize with the author:

Caroline Tung Richmond:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Ivory and Bone by Julie Eshbaugh

Book Review: Ivory and Bone by Julie EshbaughIvory and Bone by Julie Eshbaugh
Series: Ivory and Bone #1
Published by HarperTeen on June 7, 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Goodreads
2 Stars
A prehistoric fantasy—with allusions to Pride and Prejudice.

Hunting, gathering, and keeping his family safe—that’s the life seventeen-year-old Kol knows. Then bold, enigmatic Mya arrives from the south with her family, and Kol is captivated. He wants her to like and trust him, but any hopes of impressing her are ruined when he makes a careless—and nearly grave—mistake. However, there’s something more to Mya’s cool disdain…a history wrought with loss that comes to light when another clan arrives. With them is Lo, an enemy from Mya’s past who Mya swears has ulterior motives.

As Kol gets to know Lo, tensions between Mya and Lo escalate until violence erupts. Faced with shattering losses, Kol is forced to question every person he’s trusted. One thing is for sure: this was a war that Mya or Lo—Kol doesn’t know which—had been planning all along.

Book Review:

IVORY AND BONE originally caught my eye because, historical fiction set way, way, way in the past? With mammoths and saber cats and the Ice Age? Gimme. I’m always on the lookout for historical fiction set in different eras than the popular ones.

Author Julie Eshbaugh did a good job of making me feel like I had gone way, way, back in time. She described the camps, clothing, food, kayaks, setting, etc. The prehistoric setting of IVORY AND BONE was probably my favorite part of the book.

The biggest problem I had with IVORY AND BONE is the way it’s written. The author took a risk by having Kol narrate to Mya. On one hand, it makes sense, since there was such a big tradition of storytelling back then. But at the same time, Kol’s telling distanced me from the story and from the characters while slowing the pacing to a crawl.

I was bored for the majority of IVORY AND BONE, because I just didn’t care about anyone or what was happening. Halfway through the book, I was still waiting for something big to happen, something to keep my attention. I only kept reading because the author didn’t stick to traditional gender roles — a leader of one clan is a woman, other women hunt with the men, and so on. Historically improbable I’m sure, but I liked it.

Overall, I liked the idea of IVORY AND BONE, but the risk of Kol narrating the story to Mya (you speak, you disappear, you are rude) just didn’t work for me. The writing style kept me too distanced from everything, and I thought Kol sounded like a whiny girl for a lot of the book, making lover boy eyes at Mya. Maybe some of that is the Pride and Prejudice allusions, but I’m not a fan of that classic, so I can’t say for sure. IVORY AND BONE is the first in a trilogy, but I can’t imagine where the series will go from here.

Socialize with the author:

Julie Eshbaugh:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie

Book Review: The Rivals of Versailles by Sally ChristieThe Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie
Series: The Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy #2
Published by Atria on April 5, 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 448
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Goodreads
5 Stars
And you thought sisters were a thing to fear. In this compelling follow-up to Sally Christie's clever and absorbing debut, we meet none other than the Marquise de Pompadour, one of the greatest beauties of her generation and the first bourgeois mistress ever to grace the hallowed halls of Versailles.

I write this before her blood is even cold. She is dead, suddenly, from a high fever. The King is inconsolable, but the way is now clear.

The way is now clear.

The year is 1745. Marie-Anne, the youngest of the infamous Nesle sisters and King Louis XV's most beloved mistress, is gone, making room for the next Royal Favorite.

Enter Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, a stunningly beautiful girl from the middle classes. Fifteen years prior, a fortune teller had mapped out young Jeanne's destiny: she would become the lover of a king and the most powerful woman in the land. Eventually connections, luck, and a little scheming pave her way to Versailles and into the King's arms.

All too soon, conniving politicians and hopeful beauties seek to replace the bourgeois interloper with a more suitable mistress. As Jeanne, now the Marquise de Pompadour, takes on her many rivals - including a lustful lady-in-waiting; a precocious fourteen-year-old prostitute, and even a cousin of the notorious Nesle sisters - she helps the king give himself over to a life of luxury and depravity. Around them, war rages, discontent grows, and France inches ever closer to the Revolution.

Enigmatic beauty, social climber, actress, trendsetter, patron of the arts, spendthrift, whoremonger, friend, lover, foe. History books may say many things about the famous Marquise de Pompadour, but one thing is clear: for almost twenty years, she ruled France and the King's heart.

Told in Christie's witty and modern style, this second book in the Mistresses of Versailles trilogy will delight and entrance fans as it once again brings to life the world of eighteenth century Versailles in all its pride, pestilence and glory.

In May, I will be on the blog tour for this book. Remember to stop back for a guest post from author Sally Christie!

Book Review:

Last year, I rather enjoyed THE SISTERS OF VERSAILLES, Sally Christie’s first foray into the women of Louis XV. So I was eager to see what she had in store for Madame de Pompadour. I read THE RIVALS OF VERSAILLES twice, so it’s safe to say I enjoyed it as well!

Between my reads of the book, I actually went back and reread THE SISTERS OF VERSAILLES. It was quite interesting to see the evolution of the king in two books. His initial hesitation at straying from the queen in book one to visiting whorehouses set up by Pompadour in book two.

Because a lot of my reading of that period in French history has centered on Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, I didn’t realize how much Louis XV contributed to the downfall of the monarchy. But after reading THE RIVALS OF VERSAILLES, and seeing how men around the king tried to manipulate the women in his life, to have power over the king through those women, I saw how his behavior and decisions left his grandson a perfect storm.

In the Note from the Author, Sally Christie says that the Marquise de Pompadour was one of the most powerful women of the 18th century. I think the author showed that power quite well, displaying the influence Pompadour had over government decisions, but also the charitable and artistic contributions she made.

Some of the book is written in Pompadour’s point-of-view, but there are also sections from three of her enemies/want-to-be-mistresses. By using those other POVs, the author showed how Pompadour did something incredible: she remained Louis XV’s official mistress without being able to bed him. Pompadour’s evolution was just as interesting as the king’s, as she went from bourgeois to marquise. There’s this scene where her landscaper wants her to move an entire village of people to improve the view, and she does it, because that’s what nobility does.

THE RIVALS OF VERSAILLES is very readable. I like the author’s style. Her writing drew me in, and I felt like I was there, watching events unfold. It was like reading a historical soap opera, but one that had substance along with the fun fluff.

Socialize with the author:

Sally Christie:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

Book Review: The Passion of Dolssa by Julie BerryThe Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry
Published by Viking Books for Young Readers on April 12, 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 496
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
2 Stars
I must write this account, and when I have finished, I will burn it.

Buried deep within the archives of a convent in medieval France is an untold story of love, loss, and wonder and the two girls at the heart of it all.

Dolssa is an upper-crust city girl with a secret lover and an uncanny gift. Branded a heretic, she’s on the run from the friar who condemned her mother to death by fire, and wants Dolssa executed, too.

Botille is a matchmaker and a tavern-keeper, struggling to keep herself and her sisters on the right side of the law in their seaside town of Bajas.

When their lives collide by a dark riverside, Botille rescues a dying Dolssa and conceals her in the tavern, where an unlikely friendship blooms. Aided by her sisters and Symo, her surly but loyal neighbor, Botille nurses Dolssa back to health and hides her from her pursuers. But all of Botille’s tricks, tales, and cleverness can’t protect them forever, and when the full wrath of the Church bears down upon Bajas, Dolssa’s passion and Botille’s good intentions could destroy the entire village.

From the author of the award-winning All the Truth That’s in Me comes a spellbinding thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the final page and make you wonder if miracles really are possible.

Book Review:

THE PASSION OF DOLSSA is a hard book to categorize. It’s labeled Young Adult, but I feel it’s slanted more to an older audience. I love historical fiction and always have, but my teenage self wouldn’t have gotten far past the religious aspects of the book. I guess I should have expected a focus on religion, as Dolssa’s a runaway heretic, but somehow my mind just didn’t make the connection.

THE PASSION OF DOLSSA is set mainly in 1241, in Provensa, just after the Crusades. A dangerous time to be alive if you went against the Church in any tiny way. Dolssa is a young woman accused of speaking heresy by preaching in her own home because non clerics don’t speak of God, especially not women. But Dolssa sees nothing wrong with spreading the word of her beloved — Jesus — and so she refuses to repent. When she’s sentenced to burn at the stake, she escapes, only to be hunted down by a very determined friar. Dolssa is rescued by Botille, one of a trio of sisters who run a tavern in Bajas. But sheltering Dolssa leads to danger for Botille and her family.

Some of the religious tension of the time is evident in the narrative, and the author provides a lengthy explanation at the end of the book. But I wish that material at the end had been at the beginning of the book, or better explained in the story itself. I might have enjoyed THE PASSION OF DOLSSA more had I known what I know now about the religious history of Provensa. There’s also a glossary of the Old Provencal words.

Here’s the thing. I’m not really sure of the intended audience for THE PASSION OF DOLSSA. As I said above, my younger self would have put this book down as soon as it got too deep into religion, heresy, and churchmen using their faith to kill innocents. It’s just not something I’m interested in. I’m know there are teens who want to read about religion, but the book doesn’t really feel like a YA book. It’s more… literary YA, if that makes any sense. It’s somewhat open-ended (especially the ending), and it’s a book you’re supposed to think about and draw your own conclusions.

I’m sure this book will be up for awards, and I did like some things, such as the strong female friendships, strong family relationships, and the strong characters of the sisters. But overall, I didn’t enjoy the reading experience. I didn’t get invested in the story or the characters or their dilemmas. This wasn’t a book I wanted to keep reading. I’m starting to think Julie Berry just isn’t an author for me, as I wasn’t a huge fan of her other YA, ALL THE TRUTH THAT’S IN ME.

Socialize with the author:

Julie Berry:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Book Review: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall KellyLilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
Published by Ballantine Books on April 5, 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 496
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
2 Stars
Inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this powerful debut novel reveals an incredible story of love, redemption, and terrible secrets that were hidden for decades.

New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline’s world is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France.

An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences.

For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.

The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.

In Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly has crafted a remarkable novel of unsung women and their quest for love, freedom, and second chances. It is a story that will keep readers bonded with the characters, searching for the truth, until the final pages.

Book Review:

LILAC GIRLS has one good and one bad thing about it: Caroline Ferriday.

The book is written from the perspectives of three very different women: Caroline Ferriday, New York socialite and charity worker; Kasia Kuzmerick, Polish teenager, resistance member, and Ravensbrück rabbit; and Herta Oberheuser, the sole female German doctor at Ravensbrück.

Now, why do I say Caroline is good and bad? Because for the majority of LILAC GIRLS, I couldn’t stand her chapters. We go from Kasia suffering at Ravensbrück to Caroline being miserable because her married beau disappears after Germany takes France. I wanted to skip Caroline’s chapters, because I just did not care about her and Paul, and her whinging over him got old. I’m always picky about romances; Caroline and Paul had no chemistry for me and I winced whenever he showed up. Caroline’s war year chapters dragged down LILAC GIRLS for me.

I was much more interested in Kasia’s story, because I haven’t seen the Rabbits mentioned in a lot of WWII historical fiction*. Even Herta’s chapters were intriguing, although I wish the author had spent more time on her moral transformation, going from reluctant to kill to eager to practice surgery on unwilling test subjects.

But at the end of the book, I learned Caroline was a real person. And that was the best part of LILAC GIRLS for me: the book brought to light an incredibly important person. With all the reading I’ve done on WWII, Caroline Ferriday is someone I should’ve heard about, but she’s been forgotten to history.

The other part of LILAC GIRLS I appreciated is that the author continued the book after the war years. A lot of WWII historical fiction is set in 1939-1945, and that’s it. Story over after the end of the war. But here, we stayed with the characters for a lot longer. By continuing Kasia’s story, the author showed how the war didn’t really end for many of the victims.

*ROSE UNDER FIRE by Elizabeth Wein was my first introduction to the plight of the Rabbits, and I highly recommend it.

Socialize with the author:

Martha Hall Kelly:
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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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– leeanna