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.

Socialize with the author:

Sandra Gulland:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Bracelet of Bones (Viking Sagas #1) by Kevin Crossley-Holland

Book Review: Bracelet of Bones (Viking Sagas #1) by Kevin Crossley-HollandBracelet of Bones by Kevin Crossley-Holland
Series: Viking Sagas #1
Published by Quercus Books on March 11, 2014
Genres: Adventure, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade
Pages: 256
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Goodreads
1 Stars
It is 1036. Halfdan is a Viking mercenary who is determined to travel to Constantinople and become one of the Viking Guard serving Empress Zoe. He promises to take his daughter, but one morning Solveig wakes up to find him gone. Setting off in her own tiny boat, she is determined to make the journey from Norway to the breathtaking city. Her boat is washed up, but Solveig is undeterred. What awaits Solveig as she continues on her summer journey across the world? She finds passage with Viking traders, witnesses the immolation of a young slave girl and learns to fight. She sees the clashes between those who praise her Norse Gods and the new Christians. In this perilous and exciting world, a young girl alone could be quickly endangered or made a slave. Will Solveig live to see her father again, and if she survives, will she remain free? A glittering novel that explores friendship and betrayal, the father-daughter relationship, the clash of religions and the journey from childhood to adulthood.

Book Review:

From the summary, BRACELET OF BONES sounds awesome. After being left behind by her father, fourteen-year-old Solveig travels from Norway to Miklagard (Constantinople) by herself. For a girl who has never gone to the local market by herself, the prospect of such a journey is overwhelming, but Solveig loves her father and wants to be with him.

The author takes something that should be super exciting — Solveig’s journey — and makes it super boring. BRACELET OF BONES is for grades 5 and up, but I can’t see younger readers sticking with this book because there’s just not a lot happening! My younger self might have finished it, but that’s only because I’ve always had a thing about finishing books.

This book is the start of a series, which wasn’t something I realized until I finished it and saw the preview for book two. So BRACELET OF BONES is the story of Solveig’s journey from Norway to Miklagard, and only that journey. It’s somewhat repetitive, and I just feel like nothing happened. Solveig took a boat ride. Solveig took another boat ride. Solveig took a third boat ride.

I think some of my apathy for the book was due to the writing style and Solveig herself. The writing is pretty simple, which is okay because it’s a middle grade book and aimed towards younger readers. But I lost count of the “Solveig thought this” or “Solveig thought that” type of sentences, or the times she exclaimed or whispered or cried … she never just said anything. Call me overly picky, but that sort of writing pulls me out of a story. And Solveig … I never connected with her. I felt like I was watching the events of the book rather than being with her on her journey.

I wanted to like BRACELET OF BONES. I mean, Vikings? A Viking girl going on a grand adventure? That should be right up my alley. Unfortunately, this book just wasn’t for me.

Socialize with the author:

Kevin Crossley-Holland:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Knight Assassin by Rima Jean

Book Review: Knight Assassin by Rima JeanKnight Assassin by Rima Jean
Published by Entangled Teen on March 4, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 242
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
2 Stars
Seventeen-year-old Zayn has special powers she cannot control—powers that others fear and covet. Powers that cause the Templar Knights to burn Zayn’s mother at the stake for witchcraft. When a mysterious stranger tempts Zayn to become the first female member of the heretical Assassins, the chance to seek her revenge lures her in. She trains to harness her supernatural strength and agility, and then enters the King of Jerusalem's court in disguise with the assignment to assassinate Guy de Molay, her mother’s condemner. But once there, she discovers Earic Goodwin, the childhood friend who still holds her heart, among the knights—and his ocean-blue eyes don’t miss a thing. Will vengeance be worth the life of the one love she has left?

Book Review:

Featuring a female assassin with magical powers, KNIGHT ASSASSIN has a lot of elements that I normally like. But for some reason, I wasn’t able to get into the book. It just didn’t click for me.

Zayn has mysterious powers she can’t control, powers that make her faster and stronger than others. She and her mother are not welcome in their village, and keep to themselves. When she rejects the marriage proposal of an important man in the village, her mother is burned at the stake, accused of being a witch. Zayn herself is raped by Guy de Molay, son of the lord of the land.

Emotionally and physically abused, and without her beloved mother, Zayn doesn’t know what to do. She just wants to die. But before she can do anything, she’s rescued by Junaid, an Assassin of a heretical Islamic sect. Because of her rumored abilities, Zayn is given the opportunity to train as an Assassin. Thirsting for revenge against Guy, she goes for it, becoming the first female Assassin.

Although both Christianity and Islam play a role in the book, the author doesn’t shove religion down anyone’s throats. In fact, Zayn is not religious at all. Take the Dome of the Rock — both religions find it important, and fought over it. Zayn can’t understand why anyone would kill over a rubble-filled spot. In a time (~1180) where people were extremely religious, it was refreshing to see a main character who wasn’t. Zayn really only joins the Nizari Isma’ili so she can gain the skills she’ll need to kill Guy.

The romance wasn’t a big portion of the book, which I liked. Zayn has no use for men after her rape, and she didn’t really care for them before, either. She wanted to be independent, not shackled to any man in marriage. But she runs into Earic Goodwin, a Saxon Knight Templar, while trying to accomplish her assassination of Guy. She vaguely knew Earic when they were children, and almost the minute she sees him again, she starts thinking she loves him. I just didn’t feel any chemistry between them. I wish they had stayed friends, and let the romance come along in the next book.

At 242 pages, KNIGHT ASSASSIN isn’t too long, but it read like a longer book for me. I think this was because of flashbacks, which the author would use whenever an important event from the past came up, such as Zayn and Earic’s first meeting.

I did like that the book was set in Syria and Jerusalem. It’s good to have a fantasy/historical romance that isn’t set in medieval England. However, I didn’t get a good sense of the world, other than the types of food they ate. I also wanted to know more about Zayn’s powers. I’m still confused on what they actually are. I’m guessing that will be explained more in the next book.

Overall, KNIGHT ASSASSIN was missing something for me. It was okay, but flawed.

Socialize with the author:

Rima Jean:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Winner’s Curse (Winner’s Trilogy #1) by Marie Rutkoski

Book Review: The Winner’s Curse (Winner’s Trilogy #1) by Marie RutkoskiThe Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Series: Winner's Trilogy #1
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) on March 4, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 355
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, NetGalley
Goodreads
3 Stars
Winning what you want may cost you everything you love.

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

Book Review:

“Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married.”

That sentence in the summary for THE WINNER’S CURSE is what caught my attention. Immediately I wanted to know what sort of world Kestrel lived in, that those would be her only choices. And I wanted to know what she would do, because I was sure it wasn’t going to be either one of those things. That wouldn’t have made for a very exciting book.

THE WINNER’S CURSE is a book with a lot of hype behind it. A lot of other readers have LOVED it. For me, it was a so-so book, mainly because I never got behind the romantic relationship. And as that relationship is pretty important to several of the events in the book, I had an okay reading experience. Not a great one, but I probably will continue this trilogy, because I do want to see what will happen next.

Kestrel is a Valorian. Her people have conquered the the Herrani, turning them into slaves in their own land. The Valorians are great warriors, especially Kestrel’s father, who was responsible for the victory over the Herrani. General Trajan expects his daughter to follow in his footsteps by joining the military, and while Kestrel is a brilliant tactician, she can’t fight very well and doesn’t want to kill anyone. But she doesn’t really want to marry, either. She wants to play the piano, but playing music isn’t something the Valorians regard highly.

When a slave goes up for sale, one who supposedly sings, but is defiant on the block, Kestrel impulsively buys him. You know what happens next: forbidden love develops between Kestrel and Arin. At least their relationship wasn’t insta-love, but I just didn’t feel any chemistry between them. They spend time getting to know each other, Kestrel asking Arin to always be honest with her, but … I don’t know. I’m not going to spoil the story, but as I said above, their feelings for each other turn out to be quite important, and because I didn’t feel the relationship, I was meh on a lot of the events.

I also wanted more worldbuilding in the book. In the Author’s Note, the author says she was inspired by the Greco-Roman period after Rome conquered Greece. Little bits of the world are revealed, such as all Valorians wearing weapons, or the wall color in a Herrani room signifying its usage. But I had a lot of unanswered questions, from where Valoria was located in comparison to Herran, to why Kestrel had to have an escort for going out in public.

THE WINNER’S CURSE does unfurl slowly, the story building layer upon layer. I did enjoy that aspect, as well as the writer’s style. Marie Rutkoski has a way of describing things in this book that I found poetic but readable. Here’s an example from Arin’s auction: “The bidding spiraled higher, each voice spurring the next until it seemed that a roped arrow was shooting through the members of the crowd, binding them together, drawing them tight with excitement (p. 14, ARC).”

While THE WINNER’S CURSE didn’t quite hit the mark for me, it wasn’t bad, and if you’re a fan of forbidden relationships, you might enjoy it more than I did.

Socialize with the author:

Marie Rutkoski:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Boleyn Bride by Brandy Purdy

Book Review: The Boleyn Bride by Brandy PurdyThe Boleyn Bride by Brandy Purdy
Published by Kensington on February 25, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 272
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
2 Stars
From carefree young woman to disillusioned bride, the dazzling lady who would become mother and grandmother to two of history's most infamous queens, has a fascinating story all her own. . .

At sixteen, Elizabeth Howard envisions a glorious life for herself as lady-in-waiting to the future queen, Catherine of Aragon. But when she is forced to marry Thomas Boleyn, a wealthy commoner, Elizabeth is left to stagnate in the countryside while her detested husband pursues his ambitions. There, she raises golden girl Mary, moody George, and ugly duckling Anne—while staving off boredom with a string of admirers. Until Henry VIII takes the throne. . .

When Thomas finally brings his highborn wife to London, Elizabeth indulges in lavish diversions and dalliances—and catches the lusty king's eye. But those who enjoy Henry's fickle favor must also guard against his wrath. For while her husband's machinations bring Elizabeth and her children to the pinnacle of power, the distance to the scaffold is but a short one—and the Boleyn family's fortune may be turning. . .

Book Review:

I was drawn to THE BOLEYN BRIDE because while I have read many Tudor books, both fiction and non-fiction, I haven’t read anything about Elizabeth Boleyn, mother to Mary, George, and Anne. So I went into this book hoping to learn about her, as well as gain an understand of who Elizabeth was.

Purdy’s version of Elizabeth is not a sympathetic one. Elizabeth could aptly be described as a mean girl — she’s gorgeous, the daughter of one of the most powerful men in the land, and thinks everyone is beneath her. She expects her father will make her a good marriage, to someone with power, money, and looks. So imagine her shock when she’s married off to a merchant and expected to be his broodmare. She flies into a rage, breaking her maid’s nose.

Elizabeth never gets over her anger at being married to Thomas Boleyn. Granted, Purdy’s view of him is not so nice either, and so I did feel sympathy for Elizabeth being forced to marry him and be used for nothing more than bearing his children. I also didn’t mind that Elizabeth wasn’t a nice woman — she had numerous affairs and barely cared about her children until they were older and “interesting.” It was refreshing to see an outspoken woman who did what she wanted, using her position and husband’s absences to please herself.

My big problem with THE BOLEYN BRIDE was the author’s style. I felt like I was a spectator, as Elizabeth recounted events as if she were writing a memoir. Also, when sentences are twenty plus words long, my eyes tend to glaze over. A few longer sentences are fine, but there were so many of them in this book. I ended up feeling that the book was double the length it actually was. Lastly … whenever Elizabeth described her long-time lover, Remi Jouet, she called him “doughy,” like newly baked bread. Um, that doesn’t equate as sexy in my head.

THE BOLEYN BRIDE didn’t work for me because of the author’s writing style, and because after finishing, I don’t feel like I really know Elizabeth at all. Once Anne comes into the picture, and Henry starts chasing after her, the book switches to their story, with a little input from Elizabeth on how she felt about her daughter marrying the king and then Anne’s downfall. Basically, a standard Tudor historical fiction book.

Socialize with the author:

Brandy Purdy:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Her Dark Curiosity (The Madman’s Daughter #2) by Megan Shepherd

Book Review: Her Dark Curiosity (The Madman’s Daughter #2) by Megan ShepherdHer Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepherd
Series: The Madman's Daughter #2
Published by Balzer & Bray on January 28, 2014
Genres: Gothic, Historical Fiction, Horror, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Goodreads
3 Stars
To defeat the darkness, she must first embrace it.

Months have passed since Juliet Moreau returned to civilization after escaping her father's island—and the secrets she left behind. Now, back in London once more, she is rebuilding the life she once knew and trying to forget Dr. Moreau’s horrific legacy—though someone, or something, hasn’t forgotten her.

As people close to Juliet fall victim one by one to a murderer who leaves a macabre calling card of three clawlike slashes, Juliet fears one of her father’s creations may have also escaped the island. She is determined to find the killer before Scotland Yard does, though it means awakening sides of herself she had thought long banished, and facing loves from her past she never expected to see again.

As Juliet strives to stop a killer while searching for a serum to cure her own worsening illness, she finds herself once more in the midst of a world of scandal and danger. Her heart torn in two, past bubbling to the surface, life threatened by an obsessive killer—Juliet will be lucky to escape alive.

With inspiration from Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this is a tantalizing mystery about the hidden natures of those we love and how far we’ll go to save them from themselves.

Book Review:

Inspired by The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, HER DARK CURIOSITY is the second book in the Madman’s Daughter trilogy. Picking up months after the end of THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER, Juliet has escaped her father’s island, and is now living in London, the ward of one of her father’s old friends. But life isn’t peachy, as she’s still struggling with her illness and having trouble fitting into “respectable” life. Juliet is also missing Montgomery, one of the boys she loved.

One of the few things that bugged me in THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER was the love triangle between Juliet, Montgomery, and Edward. Unfortunately, that love triangle is back in HER DARK CURIOSITY. Although Juliet thought Edward was dead at the end of book one, he actually survived, and follows her to London. Montgomery eventually shows up too, hunting Edward, as his Beast side is slowly taking over his human side. I didn’t mind what she did with them, but I didn’t get behind her flipping between them. Meh. I’m just not a fan of love triangles.

Otherwise, I liked HER DARK CURIOSITY. When I started the book, I got halfway through it before I realized it. It’s very easy to sink into this book and keep flipping the pages. My favorite parts where whenever Juliet’s thoughts went into a dark direction, such as when she asked Edward what it was like to be the Beast. The title of this book really fits, as Juliet does a lot of thinking about her father’s experiments, wondering if he was right or wrong to try and create human life from animals. There’s a part near the end where Juliet does something very dark, and I liked that the author went there.

The book does end on a cliffhanger (boo!), so I am looking forward to the end of the trilogy to see how everything wraps up with Juliet and the rest of the characters.

Let’s talk about it:

What do you think of love triangles?

Socialize with the author:

Megan Sheperd:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Diamonds & Deceit (At Somerton #2) by Leila Rasheed

Book Review: Diamonds & Deceit (At Somerton #2) by Leila RasheedDiamonds & Deceit by Leila Rasheed
Series: At Somerton #2
Published by Disney Hyperion on January 7, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 420
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
5 Stars
One house, two worlds...book two in our sumptuous and enticing YA series about the servants and gentry at Somerton Court.

A house divided...

London is a whirl of balls and teas, alliances and rivalries. Rose has never felt more out of place. With the Season in full swing, she can't help but still feel a servant dressed up in diamonds and silk. Then Rose meets Alexander Ross, a young Scottish duke. Rose has heard the rumors about Ross's sordid past just like everyone else has. Yet he alone treats her as a friend. Rose knows better than to give her heart to an aristocrat with such a reputation, but it may be too late.

Ada should be happy. She is engaged to a handsome man who shares her political passions and has promised to support her education. So why does she feel hollow inside? Even if she hated Lord Fintan, she would have no choice but to go through with the marriage. Every day a new credit collector knocks on the door of their London flat, demanding payment for her cousin William's expenditures. Her father's heir seems determined to bring her family to ruin, and only a brilliant marriage can save Somerton Court and the Averleys' reputation.

Meanwhile, at Somerton, Sebastian is out of his mind with worry for his former valet Oliver, who refuses to plead innocent to the murder charges against him--for a death caused by Sebastian himself. Sebastian will do whatever he can to help the boy he loves, but his indiscretion is dangerous fodder for a reporter with sharp eyes and dishonorable intentions.

The colorful cast of the At Somerton series returns in this enthralling sequel about class and fortune, trust and betrayal, love and revenge.

Book Review:

CINDERS & SAPPHIRES, the first book in the At Somerton series, was one of my favorite reads of 2013. I think DIAMONDS & DECEIT will be one of my favorite books of 2014. If you like Downton Abbey, or historical fiction, there’s a good chance you’ll like this series.

DIAMONDS & DECEIT is just fun. Even though I’ve read it, I keep returning to it and rereading. The author has a way of sucking me into the lives of the Averleys and their servants, including all the drama, shocks, and romances they experience during the London season. Usually I don’t eat up that sort of thing so easily, but Leila Rasheed just sucks me in. I’m addicted!

I feel like a lot more happens in this book than in CINDERS & SAPPHIRES. I might actually like DIAMONDS & DECEIT better, which is unusual for me because usually the first of a trilogy is my favorite. As for what happens? Ada and Laurence’s engagement moves forward, Oliver has his trial, Georgiana tries to run Somerton, Rose tries to fit into society, Charlotte has more of a personality … and so on.

Rose is still my favorite character. She’s in a hard position, neither fully upstairs or downstairs. If you remember, at the end of book one, it was revealed that she’s Lord Westlake’s illegitimate daughter. Now recognized as one of the family, she struggles to fit into society, but is reminded constantly of where she came from. I like how she questions the new life she has, wondering if it’s really worth it. Rose falls hard for the Duke of Huntleigh, who has quite the reputation for scandalous behavior. But in contrast to Laurence, Ada’s fiancé, is he really that bad? Yet another opportunity to think about society and how it was changing in the 1900s.

And oh man, that ending! I have GOT to get my hands on the last book in the trilogy, but until then, I’ll be content to reread DIAMONDS & DECEIT because I enjoyed it that much.

Socialize with the author:

Leila Rasheed:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Book Review: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth WeinRose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Published by Disney Hyperion on September 10, 2013
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
5 Stars
While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?

Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival.

Book Review:

I’ve been trying to write my review of ROSE UNDER FIRE for a while. Sometimes I find it really hard to write a review of a book that I really loved, and that’s what happened here. How in the heck do I express all the FEELS I have for this book?

The easy thing to say would be: Read. This. Book. Now. Start it as soon as you have it in front of you, and maybe have a box of tissues handy.

I read ROSE UNDER FIRE twice in a short time, and it’s one of those books that I could read over and over again, and find something new every time. Rose is one of the best characters I’ve read in a long time. She’s just so … real. Even when a prisoner in Ravensbrück, she doesn’t lose who she is (pilot, Girl Scout, American, etc.), but her definition of herself expands. Rose does and endures some truly horrible things to survive the concentration camp, but I think that shows what humans can and will endure to survive.

The book is written in epistolary format, with three parts: Rose’s work as an ATA pilot, her time in Ravensbrück, and then after, when she’s approached about the Ravensbrück tribunal. Rose’s voice changes so much during those parts as she matures, influenced but not hardened by her experiences. During each part, I felt like I was actually there, watching everything unfold, not just reading a letter or diary entry or essay.

There’s also a fair amount of poetry in this book, both poems written by Rose and a few by other famous poets. Normally, I skim right over poetry because I have a hard time reading/understanding it, but here, I actually read them. I surprised myself by liking Rose’s poems. Rose uses poetry as a mental escape and exercise, and the other prisoners in her camp family need it just as much as she does. It just goes to show that anything can be used to rise above physical and emotional suffering, from a poem to a paper airplane.

ROSE UNDER FIRE is a book that has stuck with me, and will continue to stick with me. It’s haunting and captivating, and has stolen my heart. I want to push it into everyone’s hands and make them read it.

By the way, ROSE UNDER FIRE is a companion novel to CODE NAME VERITY, but you don’t have to have read CODE NAME VERITY for ROSE UNDER FIRE to make sense.

Socialize with the author:

Elizabeth Wein:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Kiya: Hope of the Pharaoh (Kiya #1) by Katie Hamstead

Book Review: Kiya: Hope of the Pharaoh (Kiya #1) by Katie HamsteadKiya: Hope of the Pharaoh by Katie Hamstead
Series: Kiya #1
Published by Curiosity Quills Press on April 30, 2013
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance
Pages: 257
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
3 Stars
When Naomi’s sisters are snatched up to be taken to be wives of the erratic Pharaoh, Akhenaten, she knows they won’t survive the palace, so she offers herself in their place. The fearsome Commander Horemheb sees her courage, and knows she is exactly what he is looking for…

The Great Queen Nefertiti despises Naomi instantly, and strips her of her Hebrew lineage, including her name, which is changed to Kiya. Kiya allies herself with Horemheb, who pushes her to greatness and encourages her to make the Pharaoh fall in love with her. When Akhenaten declares Kiya will be the mother of his heir, Nefertiti, furious with jealousy, schemes to destroy Kiya.

Kiya must play the deadly game carefully. She is in a silent battle of wills, and a struggle for who will one day inherit the crown. If she does bear an heir, she knows she will need to fight to protect him, as well as herself, from Nefertiti who is out for blood.

Book Review:

KIYA: HOPE OF THE PHARAOH is a book I’m torn on. The author had an interesting story to tell, and I do sort of want to read the next book to find out what happens to Kiya, Tut, and Akhenaten. However, the historical inaccuracies bugged me, as I do like some authenticity in my historical fiction, and I never got behind main character Kiya. This is one of the few books where I wish I used half stars in my ratings, because I would give it 2.5. I don’t, so I’ve rounded up to 3 stars, mainly because I AM curious about what the author has in store for her characters and version of history.

Not a lot is known about Kiya, one of Akhenaten’s lesser wives. Historians used to think she was the mother of the famous Tutankhamun, but DNA evidence has proved otherwise. In KIYA: HOPE OF THE PHARAOH, the author has Kiya as Tut’s mother, and she also starts with Kiya as Naomi, a Hebrew.

When soldiers come to Themes to find Pharaoh a Hebrew wife, Naomi offers herself up to save her younger sisters. That rash act shows Commander Horemheb that Naomi is the perfect person to be his eyes inside the women’s wing. Horemheb does everything possible to protect the Pharaoh, including protecting him from his own wives.

Once in the new city of Amarna (Akhenaten was the Heretic who turned Egypt to worshipping one god, and established his own city), Naomi is transformed to Kiya. Akhenaten believes Kiya will bear him a son, and thus she is his hope. Despite having more than 300 wives and concubines, Akhenaten has no living son. All die within days of being born.

Nefertiti is probably one of the most famous queens of Ancient Egypt. In KIYA: HOPE OF THE PHARAOH, Nefertiti is portrayed as a jealous, devious, nasty person. She has no redeeming qualities, and is Kiya’s biggest opposition. I had a difficult time with how the author portrayed Nefertiti, because I just didn’t agree. I couldn’t imagine the Great Wife skulking around the harem, holding her enemy (Kiya) down for a beating, and then rubbing salt in the wounds.

After Namoi becomes Kiya, everyone falls in love with her or supports her. Horemheb eventually becomes attracted to her, as does one of the guards, another Hebrew in disguise. Akhenaten loves her. The other wives and concubines support her against Nefertiti because she stands up for them, and fights back when Nefertiti tries to punish her. For a lot of the book, it was as if Kiya could do no wrong.

I found the writing in KIYA: HOPE OF THE PHARAOH to be a tad juvenile. I lost count of how many times the characters smiled at each other on the same page, or exchanged glances. The book is only 257 pages, but read much longer, due to slowness in the beginning and middle.

Okay. So what did I like about KIYA: HOPE OF THE PHARAOH? I’ve never read a story from Kiya’s point of view before, and even though I didn’t care much for her, I did like getting her perspective. I got into the story, and wanted to know what would happen to Kiya and baby Tut. I also liked the peek into life in Amarna and the women’s wing, although I do wonder how Akhenaten would have time to do anything after spending so much time each night with his wives and concubines!

Overall, KIYA: HOPE OF THE PHARAOH was an okay book for me. I might have enjoyed it more if I didn’t know about the time period the book is set in.

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Katie Hamstead:
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– leeanna

Book Review: In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl

Book Review: In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacCollIn Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl
Published by Penguin on August 27, 2013
Genres: Adult, Historical Fiction
Pages: 464
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
5 Stars
A bestselling Australian writer’s American debut and a heart-wrenching novel of World War I.

Iris Crane’s tranquil life is shattered when a letter summons memories from her bittersweet past: her first love, her best friend, and the tragedy that changed everything. Iris, a young Australian nurse, travels to France during World War I to bring home her fifteen-year-old brother, who ran away to enlist. But in Paris she meets the charismatic Dr. Frances Ivens, who convinces Iris to help establish a field hospital in the old abbey at Royaumont, staffed entirely by women—a decision that will change her life. Seamlessly interwoven is the story of Grace, Iris’s granddaughter in 1970s Australia. Together their narratives paint a portrait of the changing role of women in medicine and the powerful legacy of love.

Book Review:

“But death was all around us, death and severed limbs and broken men. You couldn’t see that, I mean really see it, and not contemplate your own place in it all, not see you only had this moment to live in.” (p. 342)

Reading IN FALLING SNOW is quite an experience. It’s a book I sunk into slowly, puzzling out the characters and their stories, and by the halfway point, I couldn’t read quickly enough. I HAD to know what happened to Iris and Grace, both in the past and present. By the time I turned the last page, I had a massive book hangover — I didn’t want it to end!

The majority of IN FALLING SNOW tells the story of Iris’s past, when she worked at the military hospital at Royaumont Abbey during World War I. Sent from Australia to France to bring her underage brother home from the war, Iris runs into the charismatic Miss Ivens and is derailed. Drafted as Miss Ivens’s assistant, Iris falls into the rhythm of life at the abbey, and for the first time in her life, feels like she is living. Like she is doing something important, something worthwhile. Something more than just being a daughter, a sister, or a fiancée.

At Royaumont, Iris discovers a lot about herself, and a lot about being a woman. Royaumont employs no men — from doctors to nurses to ambulance drivers, every one is female. Interspaced between Iris’s stories of the past is the present day narrative of her granddaughter, Grace. Grace is facing her own struggles as a doctor in a male-dominated field. You’d think more than 50 years after WWI, women still wouldn’t be fighting for equality and a voice, but they were (and still are). IN FALLING SNOW illustrates that struggle in a quiet but powerful way.

The book is a tad confusing at the start, as Iris slips easily between the past and present. The reason for that is quickly clear, though: nearly at the end of her life, Iris is starting to lose her memory. So moving between past and present makes sense, as Iris remembers the best and worst times of her life. Don’t worry; you’ll get used to it within a few chapters.

IN FALLING SNOW quietly winds its way to a powerful conclusion, the secrets of which I won’t spoil for you. I really liked how everyone’s stories came together in the end, and although I had guessed a few of the secrets, I didn’t guess everything, nor how they would be revealed. Yes, I know I’m being a bit obtuse here, but I never like to give away too much.

IN FALLING SNOW is a historical fiction novel, but it’s more than just that. Royaumont Abbey really was used as a hospital during the war, one where the author’s grandmother might have worked, had she had the opportunity. It’s a book about women stepping out of their expected roles in life yet while still being a wife and/or mother, about recognizing opportunities, about enjoying the little moments every day, and so much more. Some of the messages in the book have probably gone over my head (I’m not the most literary reader), but there were a few times while reading that I had an “Ah ha” moment.

Reading Guide:

If IN FALLING SNOW sounds interesting, make sure to check out Penguin’s Reader’s Guide for more information, including a conversation with the author that I found interesting.

Socialize with the author:

Mary-Rose MacColl:
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– leeanna