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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Review: Before She Sleeps by Bina Shah

Title: Before She Sleeps
Author: Bina Shah
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Delphinium
Publish Date: August 7, 2018
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "In modern, beautiful Green City, the capital of South West Asia, gender selection, war and disease have brought the ratio of men to women to alarmingly low levels. The government uses terror and technology to control its people, and women must take multiple husbands to have children as quickly as possible.

Yet there are women who resist, women who live in an underground collective and refuse to be part of the system. Secretly protected by the highest echelons of power, they emerge only at night, to provide to the rich and elite of Green City a type of commodity that nobody can buy: intimacy without sex. As it turns out, not even the most influential men can shield them from discovery and the dangers of ruthless punishment.

This dystopian novel from one of Pakistan’s most talented writers is a modern-day parable, The Handmaid’s Tale about women’s lives in repressive Muslim countries everywhere. It takes the patriarchal practices of female seclusion and veiling, gender selection, and control over women’s bodies, amplifies and distorts them in a truly terrifying way to imagine a world of post-religious authoritarianism."

My Two Cents:

In Green City, it is the job of every woman to take as many husbands as the government allows and to have as many babies (hopefully many female babies) as they can in order to overcome the gender crisis that has left Green City with many more men than women. It is very mechanical and there is not much room for love and affection. The women of the underground fulfill the need for touch and affection of the non-intimate kind but when one of the powerful men that employ their services goes too far, everything will be upended.

I love dystopian and was looking forward to reading this one, which takes place outside of the Western world in South West Asia. This part of the world has a very interesting history that led to a great background for how this story transpires. I loved that the setting of this book was off the beaten path.

The story follows three women who all have very different reasons for ending up where they are. They all handle their lives in the underground of society in some way. Some are happy with their existence out of the eye of the government, others would give anything for things to be different and to find some sort of genuine love. Others just want to watch the world burn. I loved seeing how these very different woman deal with this difficult situation that they find themselves in. I did wish that we got to know a little bit more about these characters and what makes them tick.

The book has nice pacing but I wish that the end would have not come so abruptly. It's a great ending but I found myself wondering what happened after the end of the book. More of a conclusion would have been nice. Overall, this was a good read!


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

HFVBT Review: Tiffany Blues by M.J. Rose

Title: Tiffany Blues
Author: M.J. Rose
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Atria Books
Publish Date: August 7, 2018 (Yesterday!)
Source: HFVBT

What's the Story?:

From "New York, 1924. Twenty‑four‑year‑old Jenny Bell is one of a dozen burgeoning artists invited to Louis Comfort Tiffany’s prestigious artists’ colony. Gifted and determined, Jenny vows to avoid distractions and romantic entanglements and take full advantage of the many wonders to be found at Laurelton Hall.

But Jenny’s past has followed her to Long Island. Images of her beloved mother, her hard-hearted stepfather, waterfalls, and murder, and the dank hallways of Canada’s notorious Andrew Mercer Reformatory for Women overwhelm Jenny’s thoughts, even as she is inextricably drawn to Oliver, Tiffany’s charismatic grandson.

As the summer shimmers on, and the competition between the artists grows fierce as they vie for a spot at Tiffany’s New York gallery, a series of suspicious and disturbing occurrences suggest someone knows enough about Jenny’s childhood trauma to expose her.

Supported by her closest friend Minx Deering, a seemingly carefree socialite yet dedicated sculptor, and Oliver, Jenny pushes her demons aside. Between stolen kisses and stolen jewels, the champagne flows and the jazz plays on until one moonless night when Jenny’s past and present are thrown together in a desperate moment, that will threaten her promising future, her love, her friendships, and her very life."

My Two Cents:

I was drawn to this book initially because I wanted to learn more about Louis Comfort Tiffany. I love his glass work. It's gorgeous and I have always been impressed with how he was able to capture the light in every scene. Capturing light, both metaphorically and actually, is a huge message in this book. Historical fiction with a side of art is incredibly attractive to me and this book pulled me in and made for a beautiful escape!

Our main character is Jenny, a young woman with a dark past. She has escaped to New York City but still feels like she is constantly being chased by her childhood memories, which are terrible and scary (I don't want to give anything away). I thought it was really effective how the author didn't give everything about Jenny's past all at once. We get little details as the story unfolds and I really liked how it made me feel for Jenny more and appreciate all of the terrible things that happened to her a little more. I was pulling for her throughout the book.

I was fascinated by the details about Louis Comfort Tiffany's compound, Laurelton. After years of neglect, the buildings burnt down in the late 1950s. The reason for the fire is still a mystery. Laurelton sounds like the kind of place that I would like to visit so I was so happy to see all of the detail Rose packs into this book. We see why Jenny is so affected by her past and how she channels something truly terrible into her beautiful paintings.

This is a story about resilience and finding the light in even the darkest of situations. I really enjoyed it!


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

TLC Book Tours: The Locksmith's Daughter by Karen Brooks

Title: The Locksmith's Daughter
Author: Karen Brooks 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publish Date: July 31, 2018 (Today!!!)
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins 

What's the Story?:

From "In Queen Elizabeth's England, where no one can be trusted and secrets are currency, one woman stands without fear.

Mallory Bright is the only daughter of London's most ingenious locksmith. She has apprenticed with her father since childhood, and there is no lock too elaborate for her to crack. After scandal destroys her reputation, Mallory has returned to her father's home and lives almost as a recluse, ignoring the whispers and gossip of their neighbors. But Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth's spymaster and a frequent client of Mallory's father, draws her into his world of danger and deception. For the locksmith's daughter is not only good at cracking locks, she also has a talent for codes, spycraft, and intrigue. With Mallory by Sir Francis’s side, no scheme in England or abroad is safe from discovery.

But Mallory's loyalty wavers when she witnesses the brutal and bloody public execution of three Jesuit priests and realizes the human cost of her espionage. And later, when she discovers the identity of a Catholic spy and a conspiracy that threatens the kingdom, she is forced to choose between her country and her heart.

Once Sir Francis's greatest asset, Mallory is fast becoming his worst threat—and there is only one way the Queen’s master spy deals with his enemies…"

My Two Cents:

"The Locksmith's Daughter" is the story of Mallory Bright, a young woman with an amazing ability to pick any lock. She eventually finds herself in service to Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth's masterfully powerful spymaster. At first, Mallory sees her service as a way to escape her past but she will begin to see it as something much darker. I love reading about Queen Elizabeth's spies and I love reading in this time so this exciting book was a perfect pick for me!

Mallory is a great character. I was fascinated reading about how she learned how to pick locks and what she was able to do with a skill set that very few had. While it would have been interesting to read about Mallory's spy escapades on its own, I like that the author chose to give her a much more rounded out history. This woman has been through a lot when we first meet her in this book and I loved seeing how her past shapes her future and all of the decisions that she makes throughout this book. Having so much detail about her past really made me care and appreciate her resilience about her throughout the book.

I have liked the books of Karen Brooks' in the past so I was looking forward to this book on its own. This book has a lot of good detail! You get a great sense of what Mallory deals with and how she moves throughout her world. This book is fast paced and kept me reading. Walsingham and his exploits will always make for good reading! 


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

TLC Book Tours: A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

Title: A Place for Us
Author: Fatima Farheen Mirza
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: SJP for Hogarth
Publish Date: June 12, 2018
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "A Place for Us unfolds the lives of an Indian-American Muslim family, gathered together in their Californian hometown to celebrate the eldest daughter, Hadia's, wedding - a match of love rather than tradition. It is here, on this momentous day, that Amar, the youngest of the siblings, reunites with his family for the first time in three years. Rafiq and Layla must now contend with the choices and betrayals that lead to their son's estrangement - the reckoning of parents who strove to pass on their cultures and traditions to their children; and of children who in turn struggle to balance authenticity in themselves with loyalty to the home they came from.

In a narrative that spans decades and sees family life through the eyes of each member, A Place For Us charts the crucial moments in the family's past, from the bonds that bring them together to the differences that pull them apart. And as siblings Hadia, Huda, and Amar attempt to carve out a life for themselves, they must reconcile their present culture with their parent's faith, to tread a path between the old world and the new, and learn how the smallest decisions can lead to the deepest of betrayals."

My Two Cents:

"A Place for Us" opens with the son and youngest child, Amar, of a Muslim-American family returning to attend his sister's wedding. It's a bittersweet return. Amar is loved by his family but also has caused a lot of trouble for his family through his decisions. Going back and forth between the present and various points in the past in the lives of this family, secrets will be uncovered and roles will be revealed. I really loved this book and loved the depiction of the relationships between the various family members!

This is an incredibly ambitious novel by a debut author and it's wonderful. This book could have been a disaster as the events in the book go back and forth between the present and so many different parts of this family's past. But as a reader, you are so interested in figuring out what would have caused Amar to leave the family only to come back at such a big moment. The fact that the author writes with super vivid language and includes wonderful descriptions doesn't hurt in keeping everything straight in your head.

I loved following this family. It is clear that they deeply love each other and it is clear that they are all just imperfect people trying to do the best that they can. These are the kind of characters that stick in your brain long after you close the book. I loved the way that the author described the tangled spiderweb of relationships between each of the family members. We see how each of their relationships have similarities and vast differences. These characters feel very individual but you also get to see how they work as a family as well.

This was a powerful meditation on how important family is and how complicated they can be. I cannot wait to see what this author writes next!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Novel Expressions Spotlight: THE SECRET LIFE OF MRS. LONDON by Rebecca Rosenberg

Rebecca Rosenberg, author of the new historical novel, The Secret Life of Mrs. London, revealing the love triangle between Houdini, Charmian and Jack London.
Only One Woman Could Beguile Two Legends!
Join Rebecca in a visual romp back to San Francisco, 1915, when famed author Jack London and his wife, Charmian London, attend the Great Houdini’s Chinese Water Torture Escape in San Francisco. What happened next was almost lost to history!

San Francisco, 1915. As America teeters on the brink of world war, Charmian and her husband, famed novelist Jack London, wrestle with genius and desire, politics and marital competitiveness. Charmian longs to be viewed as an equal partner who put her own career on hold to support her husband, but Jack doesn’t see it that way…until Charmian is pulled from the audience during a magic show by escape artist Harry Houdini, a man enmeshed in his own complicated marriage. Suddenly, charmed by the attention Houdini pays her and entranced by his sexual magnetism, Charmian’s eyes open to a world of possibilities that could be her escape.
As Charmian grapples with her urge to explore the forbidden, Jack’s increasingly reckless behavior threatens her dedication. Now torn between two of history’s most mysterious and charismatic figures, she must find the courage to forge her own path, even as she fears the loss of everything she holds dear.
About the Author:

California native Rebecca Rosenberg lives on a lavender farm with her family in Sonoma, the Valley of the Moon, where she and her husband founded the largest lavender product company in America, Sonoma Lavender. A long-time student of Jack London’s work and an avid fan of his daring wife, Charmian, Rosenberg is a graduate of the Stanford Writing Certificate Program. THE SECRET LIFE OF MRS. LONDON is her first novel, following her non-fiction, LAVENDER FIELDS OF AMERICA.
Rebecca Rosenberg’s next historical novel is GOLD DIGGER the story of BABY DOE TABOR.
Buy the Book:
Blog Tour Schedule:
July 9th- Book Review - Kate Braithwaite
July 10th – Book Excerpt – Just One More Chapter
July 11th -Book Spotlight and Highlighted Reviews – before the second sleep
July 12th- Book Review -Book Babble
July 13th – Book Review - Strange & Random Happenstance
July 14th – Book Spotlight – Fictionophile
July 15th - Book Spotlight- Layered Pages
July 16th – Book Spotlight & Book Review – Svetabooks
July 17th- Book Spotlight – A Bookish Affair
July 18th – Guest Post – A Bookaholic Swede

Monday, July 16, 2018

Review: The Summer Sail by Wendy Francis

Title: The Summer Sail 
Author: Wendy Francis
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Touchstone
Publish Date: May 1, 2018
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "A trio of college friends who reunite aboard a cruise ship experience an unforgettable vacation in this compelling novel from the author of The Summer of Good Intentions, which was hailed as “everything a summer read should be” by Elin Hilderbrand.

Three college roommates are celebrating a twentieth wedding anniversary by taking a cruise to Bermuda. As the ship pulls away from the pier, everyone is looking forward to lounging by the pool, sipping sunset cocktails, and reminiscing. Abby, the mother hen of the group, will be celebrating her wedding anniversary in style, even as she and her husband keep a secret from the group. Ambitious career woman Caroline happily anticipates several stress-free days away from her magazine job with her boyfriend, Javier, who may or may not be finally inspired to propose. And single mom Lee (annoyingly gorgeous and irresistibly popular in college) hopes she’ll win back the affections of her formerly sweet daughter Lacey, who after her first year in college, has inexplicably become a little bit of a monster.

As the balmy pink shores of Bermuda come into view, tensions simmer, and old jealousies flare, sending the temperature from soothing to scorching in this engrossing tale of three best friends on a vacation they won’t soon forget—but not for the reasons they expect."

My Two Cents:

In "The Summer Sail," Abby has the idea to bring her two best friends from college, Lee and Caroline. on the cruise. Lee wants to bring her college age daughter, Lacey, to get closer to her and repair their frayed relationship but Lacey may be hiding a secret of her own. Caroline is bringing her long term boyfriend and hoping for an engagement or at least some sign that he wants to be with her for the long haul. Abby is hiding her own secret and reason for bringing everyone together.

I really liked this story. It's a good story of friendship and why it's so important to surround yourself with really good people. Although Abby is definitely hiding the biggest secret (no spoilers), everyone else is hiding their own hopes and fears throughout the book. Part of the fun of this book is seeing how the characters initially hide things from each other only to realize how important it is to let your friends in to help you when you need it!

The pacing and the writing of this book was great. I really liked how the author captured the warmth of the relationship between Abby, Lee, and Caroline! The author does a really good job of giving the reader just enough of a hint of where the story was going to keep you reading. I read this book super quickly because of that. This was a great summer read about friendship!


Thursday, July 12, 2018

HFVBT Review: The Romanov Empress: A Novel of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna by C.W. Gortner

Title: The Romanov Empress: A Novel of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna
Author: C.W. Gortner 
Format: ARC
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publish Date: July 10, 2018
Source: HFVBT

What's the Story?:

From "Narrated by the mother of Russia's last tsar, this vivid, historically authentic novel brings to life the courageous story of Maria Feodorovna, one of Imperial Russia's most compelling women who witnessed the splendor and tragic downfall of the Romanovs as she fought to save her dynasty in the final years of its long reign.

Barely nineteen, Minnie knows that her station in life as a Danish princess is to leave her family and enter into a royal marriage--as her older sister Alix has done, moving to England to wed Queen Victoria's eldest son. The winds of fortune bring Minnie to Russia, where she marries the Romanov heir and becomes empress once he ascends the throne. When resistance to his reign strikes at the heart of her family and the tsar sets out to crush all who oppose him, Minnie--now called Maria--must tread a perilous path of compromise in a country she has come to love.

Her husband's death leaves their son Nicholas as the inexperienced ruler of a deeply divided and crumbling empire. Determined to guide him to reforms that will bring Russia into the modern age, Maria faces implacable opposition from Nicholas's strong-willed wife, Alexandra, whose fervor has lead her into a disturbing relationship with a mystic named Rasputin. As the unstoppable wave of revolution rises anew to engulf Russia, Maria will face her most dangerous challenge and her greatest heartache.

From the opulent palaces of St. Petersburg and the intrigue-laced salons of the aristocracy to the World War I battlefields and the bloodied countryside occupied by the Bolsheviks, C. W. Gortner sweeps us into the anarchic fall of an empire and the complex, bold heart of the woman who tried to save it."

My Two Cents:

I love historical fiction but I always wonder about why there are certain areas of the world and time periods that never seem to get the HistFic treatment. Imperial Russia is one of those. I have been absolutely craving more historical fiction set in Russia and after reading "The Romanov Empress," I only want more! Isn't that always the problem with really good books?

In this book, we meet Minnie, a royal in her own right who is betrothed to the heir to the Russian throne. Several twists of fate have Minnie's life looking much different than she ever expected. Through it all, she maintains a keen sense of just how to use her power. I love stories about strong women and Minnie certainly is super strong. Although women at the time did not have much power, she learns quickly how to wield what she does have in order to shape her own life and the lives of those around her.

Russian history is fascinating to me. It was especially fascinating to see it through Minnie's eyes as she had a front row seat to so many seismic changes in that country. Gortner adds a lot of really great detail that brings Minnie's travels and Russia itself to life. Gortner does an amazing job of world building in this book and weaving in the detail for a fully immersive experience.

This book also had a feature that I have liked in so many other Gortner books. He has a great ear (err... hand) for writing really great dialogue. You can actually hear (err.. read) the characters speaking and their tones!

It has been really hard for me to focus on reading since the Great Tree Debacle of 2018 and this is really the first book since then that I have been able to just get lost in and that's a beautiful thing!

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