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Friday, February 15, 2019

HFVBT Review: We Shall See the Sky Sparkling by Susana Aikin

Title: We Shall See the Sky Sparkling
Author: Susana Aikin
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Kensington Publishing
Publish Date: January 29, 2019
Source: HFVBT

What's the Story?:

From "Like other well-bred young women in Edwardian England, Lily Throop is expected to think of little beyond marriage and motherhood. Passionate about the stage, Lily has very different ambitions. To her father's dismay, she secures an apprenticeship at London's famous Imperial Theatre. Soon, her talent and beauty bring coveted roles and devoted admirers. Yet to most of society, the line between actress and harlot is whisper-thin. With her reputation threatened by her mentor's vicious betrayal, Lily flees to St. Petersburg with an acting troupe--leaving her first love behind.

Life in Russia is as exhilarating as it is difficult. The streets rumble with talk of revolution, and Lily is drawn into an affair with Sergei, a Count with fervent revolutionary ideals. Following Sergei when he is banished to Vladivostok, Lily struggles to find her role in an increasingly dangerous world. And as Russian tensions with Japan erupt into war, only fortitude and single-mindedness can steer her to freedom and safety at last.

With its sweeping backdrop and evocative details, We Shall See the Sky Sparkling explores a fascinating period in history through the eyes of a strong-willed, singular heroine, in a moving story of love and resilience."

My Two Cents:

"We Shall See the Sky Sparkling" is the story of Lily, a young woman. Instead of getting married and starting a family, Lily dreams of being on stage. Actresses are very much looked down upon during this time period and Lily confronts the stereotypes of what an actress is (and more so what she will do) at every turn. Her dream career and her love will take her to places she has dreamed of and those that she never could have imagined. This is a great story with a lot of rich detail!

I am always drawn to fish out of water stories. Lily is a well-bred girl that dreams of being an actress. I was not very familiar with what life as an actress was like at the time so I loved getting insight into it through Lily's eyes. She is a spunky character who knows what she wants out of life. As we see in this book, when she commits to something, she really commits to something even when it might be challenged by society or incredibly difficult. We also see this side of her in the romance in the book. Ohhh, I don't want to give anything away but the romance in this book gave me life and kept me turning the pages.

The book takes place at the turn of the 20th century and the detail is oh so good. I absolutely love books set in England but there is something so exciting to find one set in Russia. I love historical fiction set in Russia, especially when it's set right when this book is set. Russia is very much an evolving place during this time period and as Lily finds out, it can be both kind and cruel in equal measure. 

This was a great book!

Review: The Matchmaker's List by Sonya Lalli

Title: The Matchmaker's List
Author: Sonya Lalli 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publish Date: February 5, 2019
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Raina Anand may have finally given in to family pressure and agreed to let her grandmother play matchmaker, but that doesn't mean she has to like it--or that she has to play by the rules. Nani always took Raina's side when she tried to push past the traditional expectations of their tight-knit Indian-immigrant community, but now she's ambushing Raina with a list of suitable bachelors. Is it too much to ask for a little space? Besides, what Nani doesn't know won't hurt her...

As Raina's life spirals into a parade of Nani-approved bachelors and disastrous blind dates, she must find a way out of this modern-day arranged-marriage trap without shattering her beloved grandmother's dreams."

My Two Cents:

In "The Matchmaker's List," all Raina wants is to be free to mend her still broken heart with Dev, the man who she thought would be her forever. Her beloved grandmother, Nani, has a different opinion and is committed to finding Raina a husband. Raina loves her grandmother and so she goes along with the plan while trying to forget Dev, who she still very much cares for. This was a sweet romance where new cultures meet and tussle with each other. Will Raina find true love? 

Raina is a great character. She is smart and fun. She knows her mind but is devoted to her grandmother. I really liked following her through this book. Nani is the real scene stealer here though. She loves Raina so much and wants her to be happy and she thinks the best way that she can do that is by getting her married to someone who Nani considers an eligible bachelor (and they are really all disasters). It was so funny to watch!

The writing was pretty good. The point of view changes from first person to third person throughout the book. This felt a little bit distracting. I really liked the chapters that Raina narrated. She has a great voice and I loved following her through all of the adventures in dating that her Nani sends her. 

Overall, this was an enjoyable read!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Review: The Chef's Secret by Crystal King

Title: The Chef's Secret
Author: Crystal King 
Format: ARC
Publisher: Atria Books
Publish Date: February 12, 2019 (Yesterday!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "When Bartolomeo Scappi dies in 1577, he leaves his vast estate—properties, money, and his position—to his nephew and apprentice Giovanni. He also gives Giovanni the keys to two strongboxes and strict instructions to burn their contents. Despite Scappi’s dire warning that the information concealed in those boxes could put Giovanni’s life and others at risk, Giovanni is compelled to learn his uncle’s secrets. He undertakes the arduous task of decoding Scappi’s journals and uncovers a history of deception, betrayal, and murder—all to protect an illicit love affair.

As Giovanni pieces together the details of Scappi’s past, he must contend with two rivals who have joined forces—his brother Cesare and Scappi’s former protégé, Domenico Romoli, who will do anything to get his hands on the late chef’s recipes.

With luscious prose that captures the full scale of the sumptuous feasts for which Scappi was known, The Chef’s Secret serves up powerintrigue, and passion, bringing Renaissance Italy to life in a delectable fashion."

My Two Cents:

In "The Chef's Secret," Crystal King returns with a great historical fiction full of family mysteries, secret romances, and delicious food. I loved her book "Feast of Sorrows" and was so looking forward to this book. I was definitely not disappointed! In this book, she takes us to Rome in the 1500s. Giovanni is the nephew to great chef Bartolomeo Scappi, famed chef to the popes. Giovanni is Scappi's apprentice and dreams of being able to someday create the great feasts that his uncle does with ease. When Scappi dies, Giovanni will be thrown into questioning everything he knows about his own origins.

This book sucked me right in! Between the great historical detail, deliciously described food, and a fantastically wrought mystery, this book was great. I love a good family mystery and I don't want to give anything away here but what I will say is that King does a great job of keeping us guessing as well as providing glimpses into Scappi's earlier life in order to create a mystery that readers will love following. 

The detail in this book is great and definitely kept me reading. I loved reading about the Vatican as well as the sort-of palace intrigue that goes on throughout the book. As with "A Feast of Sorrows," this book has some really good descriptions of this food (warning: don't read this book on an empty stomach!!!). This was a good read to drive away the cold of winter!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

TLC Book Tours: The Sisters Hemingway by Annie England Noblin

Title: The Sisters Hemingway
Author: Annie England Noblin
Format: ARC
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: February 12, 2019 (Today!)
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "The Hemingway Sisters of Cold River, Missouri are local legends. Raised by a mother obsessed with Ernest Hemingway, they were named after the author’s four wives—Hadley, Pfeiffer, Martha, and Mary. The sisters couldn’t be more different—or more alike. Now they’re back in town, reunited to repair their fractured relationships.

Hadley is the poised, polished wife of a senator.

Pfeiffer is a successful New York book editor.

Martha has skyrocketed to Nashville stardom.

They each have a secret—a marriage on the rocks,  a job lost, a stint in rehab…and they haven’t been together in years.

Together, they must stay in their childhood home, faced with a puzzle that may affect all their futures. As they learn the truth of what happened to their mother—and their youngest sister, Mary—they rekindle the bonds they had as children, bonds that have long seemed broken. With the help of neighbors, friends, love interests old and new—and one endearing and determined Basset Hound—the Sisters Hemingway learn that the happiness that has appeared so elusive may be right here at home, waiting to be claimed."

My Two Cents:

"The Sisters Hemingway" is the story of Hadley, Pfeiffer, and Martha: three sisters who had a tragic life. After losing their parents and their younger sisters, the sisters were raised by Aunt Bea, their great aunt. Time and old wounds have torn the sisters apart and now they barely see each other. Each of them is holding their own secrets when they are called back to their hometown for Aunt Bea's funeral.

I am super close to my sisters and so I have always been fascinated by the bonds and relationships of sisters. The Hemingway sisters do not get along and spend a lot of time picking at each other. I was turned off by this at first, especially when they're called back to their hometown for such a sad occasion. As the book goes on, you begin to see why they have such bad relationships with each other. The author does a good job of showing her cards slowly.

This book also has a great family mystery at the center of it that I really liked. We get a glimpse of Aunt Bea's life through her old journal entries that the sisters find hidden in the house. We quickly realize why the pages are well-hidden. I don't want to give anything away but I loved how this mystery unravels and how it pushes the sisters back together again. It really worked for this story!

Overall, this is a perfect pick for those looking for a story about messy families and even messier family secrets and those that realize that love really does conquer all.


Monday, February 11, 2019

Giveway Winner: Annelies

I am very happy to announce the winner of the Annelies giveaway today!

Congratulations to:
Rhonda L.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Reading Challenge Update!

We're at the end of the first month of my reading challenge and so far it is going very well.

As a reminder, I am aiming to read a book from or set in each country the Department of State recognizes, which is 195 countries!

I read books from this many countries this month:

You can check out my progress on my map or see a list of where and what I'm reading here.

I focused on trying to find book recommendations for what I think is going to be one of the hardest continents for me: Africa. I found a lot of good choices but I'm definitely going to need to do a lot more digging, particularly for some of the smaller countries, which also seem to be the harder countries to find selections for.

For the next month, I'd like to continue to focus on some of the areas that I think are going to be difficult. Aside from Africa, I know that I am really going to need help with selections in the former Soviet satellite countries. If you do have suggestions for these regions or any other countries where I haven't read yet, please, please let me know in the comments!

Friday, February 1, 2019

#authorinterview : Jessica Lauryn, Author of A Sultry Performance

I am so very pleased to welcome Jessica Lauryn here to A Bookish Affair today. Jessica is the author of "A Sultry Performance," which I reviewed here yesterday.
1.   What inspired you to write "A Sultry Performance?"
I drew on a number of different elements for A Sultry Performance, several of which come back to the same idea. Heroine Victoria Morrow was forced to become an exotic dancer as a young woman, as a means to survive. As someone who has always had the support of a loving family, I’m greatly inspired by women like Victoria, who may not have been as lucky as I was and yet manage, through their strength and determination, to find true love in spite of the odds. I wrote this Cinderella-style romance because I believe everyone can have their happily ever after, and even the most challenging of road-blocks can’t keep us from achieving it, when we’re determined enough.
Hero Chris Gordon, whose wife, Evelyn, was murdered by a hit and run driver, is determined to get justice. He’s recently learned that Evelyn was having an affair and he suspects the man she was involved with, Oakley Sutherland, is her killer. He ignites a plan to ensnare Oakley, working through Oakley’s fiancée and the leader of the exotic dancing team at his night club, Victoria Morrow.  Of course, I wanted to write this story because it contains so much juicy conflict! But more so, like Victoria, Chris has gone through something unimaginable and he still manages to find happiness under the most unlikely of circumstances. Though I’m fortunate to have never gone through anything nearly so horrific, I find it encouraging to create a character who can beat the odds and find love for the 2nd time. I was drawn to the setting of the exotic night club where the story is primarily set, Sultry & Sensational, as I’ve led a rather clean-cut life but have often wondered how the other half lives, so to speak.
2.    What drew you to setting your story in the Rabourn Theater?
Though A Sultry Performance contains a number of scenes which take place at Sultry & Sensational, it is indeed a part of the Rabourn Theater Series, and everything in this series always leads back to Rabourn Theater. I was drawn to the idea of creating a series about a theater by my love of Phantom of the Opera. I love how the mysterious phantom, who is thought to be so unattractive on the outside, becomes obsessed with something beautiful (opera, theater) and it is his obsession which ultimately drives him to madness. I created Augustus Nathanson, the main villain in the Rabourn Theater Series, with the intention of exploring this idea further, showing all of the mayhem which may come as the result of one man’s actions and how, in the case of this series, it deeply affects the lives of 5 would-be couples, who find love in spite of every odd. All of the couples are connected to Rabourn Theater in some way and this beautiful, romantic setting plays a major part in all of their stories.   
3.    Who is your favorite character in the book?
My villains are often my favorite characters, especially so because I’m often preparing to reform them in an upcoming story. But in this case, I’d have to say that my favorite character is Victoria. I’m being a bit redundant perhaps, but I really do admire the way that she holds herself together while being under the thumb of an abusive man, and the collateral damage of another, something she isn’t even aware of.  Though Chris attempts to play the role of the savvy seducer where she’s concerned, Victoria isn’t having it, and their witty banter makes me laugh out loud, even though I wrote it and have read it over about a million times. I’d like to think that I’d possess Victoria’s same strength if I were in her shoes and though our lives could not be more different, I do believe she contains some part of me, as all of my characters probably do.
4.    What was your indie-publishing experience like for this book? What made you decide to go that route?
Having published my first 7 novels with Siren BookStrand, I thought it might be fun to try something different. I worked with Killion Group to publish A Sultry Performance, and they were amazing. I’m big on small details when it comes to the appearance of my books and I was blown away by all of the little touches they provided me with, a cover of my choosing, a step-back image, (something I’d never had before) and beautiful font heading my chapters and throughout the book. Their design was so in-line with my own desires. They really did a nice job!
5.    If you could bring three people to a deserted island, who would you bring and why?
It would be difficult for me to live on a desert island, as I’ve become something of a social butterfly, but I would bring my mother, who is my best friend and favorite person to watch the soaps with, my father, who is my mentor and business partner in my day-job and my fiancé Bill who’d have us all laughing day in and day out even if we never returned from that island!

A Sultry Performance Blurb:
Chris Gordon, stage manager at Rabourn Theater, suspects his late wife’s hit-and-run was never an accident. He believes the man she was having an affair with, Oakley Sutherland, was responsible and he vows to get Evelyn justice, igniting a plot to ensnare Oakley, working through Oakley’s fiancée, Victoria.

A well-known exotic dancer by night, Victoria Morrow has been fighting to make a better life for herself, and she won’t be taken advantage of. But when the most handsome man at Rabourn Theater takes an interest in her, she finds herself spiraling down a path she never expected to. Can Victoria resist Chris’s charms? Or will both of them fall prey to the danger that lurks in the wings?

“I’m fine.” Victoria hid her eyes.
Chris tucked a disheveled wave behind her ear. “You don’t look fine. You’re trembling, and you look as though you’ve been crying.”
Victoria did her best to hold it together, like she always did. But seeing the compassion in Chris’s eyes, compassion that ran deeper than anything she had ever been on the receiving end of, the emotions welled inside of her. As the tears spilled down her face Chris took her into his arms. His strength surrounded her. He brought her inside of it, brushing one strong hand up and down her back.
“Victoria,” he whispered, “why are you marrying that man?”
Victoria tried, but couldn’t think of a single reason why she was. For years, she’d been telling herself that she was humoring Oakley, biding her time with him until she could approach him from a position of power. But the more time passed, the more she questioned whether that day would ever come. The night Oakley had asked her to marry him, there hadn’t been any question in her mind that she was going to say yes. Such had been the way of their disgusting farce of a relationship. She presented a hard-edged front to the world, but when it came to the man who’d been manipulating her for half her life, it was as though she had no power at all, as though she might just as well be nothing more than a mouse.
Avoiding Chris’s eyes, because she couldn’t possibly hide the truth from him if they were looking at each other head-on, Victoria simply said, “I love him.”
Chris’s arms stiffened and Victoria froze in turn, barely breathing as he took her by the shoulders, saying, “Victoria, that man just embarrassed you in front of two hundred people. He berated you, he manhandled you and he exploits you every night of your life. How could you possibly love a man like that?”
Victoria gnawed her lip, completely at a loss for words. She had no defense for the man in question and by aligning herself with him she was sacrificing more of her identity every day. Not that the life she’d led had made her crazy about relationships in general, but she wasn’t even opening herself to the possibility of another man’s companionship, to his soothing words and soft touch. Was it so wrong to want these things, so impossible to have them? Bringing Chris into the middle of her relationship with Oakley was liable to prove dangerous for both of them. But Chris was strong. He had to be, to have survived the loss he had.
Cautioning herself not to allow her thoughts to get away from her, knowing that Oakley would probably kill a man he perceived to be a serious enough threat to him, Victoria lifted her chin. “I know what it looks like, but I couldn’t count the things Oakley has done for me over the years. He’s protected me, and I sleep soundly at night knowing that no one is going to hurt me. He makes me feel safe.”
She realized right away that she shouldn’t have put things in those terms because the twinkle in Chris’s eyes told her exactly what his reply was going to be. She ought to run. He was giving her a chance to do just that, but her legs refused to stand. Instead, they eased sideways, leading the way like the smokestack on a train as her body leaned helplessly into that of the man sitting beside her.
“Tell me, Victoria—” Chris looked into her eyes, “does Oakley Sutherland make you feel like this?”  

#1 BookStrand bestselling author Jessica Lauryn has been writing since before she could hold a pen. Her days of storytelling through the art of playing with dolls inspired her to write romantic suspense novels The Romance Reviews describe as having "Just the right amount of passion and romance!" Villains often reform in Jessica's stories, and just may become heroes themselves! Jessica is an avid antique collector, as well as a proud member of Romance Writers of America and her local chapter, New Jersey Romance Writers.

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