Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Review: Duty to the Crown by Aimie K. Runyan

Title: Duty to the Crown
Author: Aimie K. Runyan
Format: ARC
Publisher: Kensington
Publish Date: October 25, 2016
Source: Author

What's the Story?:

From "In 1667, an invisible wall separates settlers in New France from their Huron neighbors. Yet whether in the fledgling city of Quebec or within one of the native tribes, every woman’s fate depends on the man she chooses—or is obligated—to marry.

Although Claudine Deschamps and Gabrielle Giroux both live within the settlement, their prospects are very different. French-born Claudine has followed her older sister across the Atlantic hoping to attract a wealthy husband through her beauty and connections. Gabrielle, orphan daughter of the town drunkard, is forced into a loveless union by a cruel law that requires her to marry by her sixteenth birthday. And Manon Lefebvre, born in the Huron village and later adopted by settlers, has faced the prejudices of both societies and is convinced she can no longer be accepted in either. Drawn into unexpected friendship through their loves, losses, and dreams of home and family, all three women will have to call on their bravery and resilience to succeed in this new world…"

My Two Cents:

"Duty to the Crown" is the second book in the "Daughters of New France" series by Aimie K. Runyan. The colony of New France is a little more established when the book opens up but still feels like a new frontier for many of its residents. I loved the first book in this series and was anxious to get back to Runyan's New France, still a very new setting for me and one that I really loved seeing through this book. Although New France is no longer new to the main characters in this book, it still makes for a fascinating setting where even a place that the characters think they know well can totally change their lives.

While characters from the first book appear, this book largely focuses on the next generation of women in New France. There is Claudine, the sister of Nicole from the first book who wants to find her husband. Gabrielle is a young woman that is forced into a loveless and abusive marriage and will have to rely on herself in order to make her situation better. Then there is Manon, a young woman who walks the line between the settlers and the natives, two groups who don't get along all the time. Through each of these characters, the author explores what it was like to live in New France during this time period. Each of the stories are interesting in their own way and I appreciated getting so many different perspectives. I loved how the author was able to create really different voices for each of the characters.

The world building and historical detail in this book are fantastic and I loved being immersed in the world of the characters. Settlement life is not glamorous and readers get many doses of reality throughout the book. I appreciated that the author did not shy away from the realities of settlement life even if it was difficult to read some parts of the book after becoming attached to some of the characters. Overall, this was a great follow up to the first book!


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

TLC Book Tours: The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Title: The Fate of the Tearling
Author: Erika Johansen
Format: ARC
Publisher: Harper
Publish Date: November 29, 2016 (Today!)
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins 

What's the Story?:

From "
The thrilling conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Tearling trilogy.

In less than a year, Kelsea Glynn has transformed from a gawky teenager into a powerful monarch. As she has come into her own as the Queen of the Tearling, the headstrong, visionary leader has also transformed her realm. In her quest to end corruption and restore justice, she has made many enemies—including the evil Red Queen, her fiercest rival, who has set her armies against the Tear.

To protect her people from a devastating invasion, Kelsea did the unthinkable—she gave herself and her magical sapphires to her enemy—and named the Mace, the trusted head of her personal guards, Regent in her place. But the Mace will not rest until he and his men rescue their sovereign, imprisoned in Mortmesne.

Now, as the suspenseful endgame begins, the fate of Queen Kelsea—and the Tearling itself—will finally be revealed."

My Two Cents:

What a ride! "The Fate of the Tearling" is the conclusion to the Queen of the Tearling trilogy. I have really enjoyed this trilogy and was torn between wanting to see how the author ended the trilogy as the books have taken so many interesting turns and not wanting to get to the end because I was enjoying the ride so much. This book will thrill followers of the trilogy and I found it utterly satisfying!

First things first, you NEED to read the first two books in the series in order to understand this book and get the most out of it you can. The world building in this book is as great as the other books but gets even more intricate in this book. We understand more about what Kelsea is up against and how she has to grow and change in order to meet the challenges in her world. We also get to understand more about how her world came to be. I can't say very much without giving parts of the other books away but the explanation of the past was fascinating to me and I loved the way the author explained why Kelsea's world is the way that it is.

The characters in the book are great. I continued to be enthralled with the way Kelsea has changed since the first book. This is the book where she really comes into her own! The secondary characters are fantastic as well. I was especially interested in the parts of the book with the Red Queen. Her story takes some interesting turns throughout the book that kept me engaged.

Now, there was a lot going on in this series and I had some trepidation surrounding whether or not the author was able to neatly tie up the various story strands throughout the book. I am happy to report that she is able to do it. The very ending felt slightly rushed to me but still worked just fine overall.

This whole series is an exciting ride and this last book is a great capstone!


Monday, November 28, 2016

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Crown
Publish Date: February 11, 2014
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. 

Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars' surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, Mark won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first. 

But Mark's not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills—and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.

As he overcomes one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next, Mark begins to let himself believe he might make it off the planet alive."

My Two Cents:

"The Martian" is a fantastic science fiction book about a mission to Mars that goes awry. Mark becomes one of the first people to walk on Mars and now he thinks he'll be the first person to die on Mars. After freak accident has his crew leaving the planet and thinking that he's dead, they quickly find out that Mark may not really be dead. 

Filled with a lot of humor, this is a great book that will appeal to more than just traditional science-fiction lovers. One of the best things about this book is the voices that the author creates for the characters. The book starts out with Mark's voice and Mark is absolutely hilarious. He seems like somebody that I would definitely get along with. He has sort of a funny way of looking at his plight and I think that it shows how humor can get you through some very difficult times. I loved following his story. We get to see the NASA scientists as well and it was interesting to see how they try to figure out what happened to Mark and what he what they can possibly do in order to save him. 

The book is well-written and I love a good survivor story. This book is a little bit different because it talks about survival on Mars but it is a survivor story nonetheless. Overall, this book is incredibly entertaining. It would make for a great intro to sci-fi for those that don't read sci-fi at all or very often!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Review: Ten Years Later by Lisa Marie Latino

Title: Ten Years Later
Author: Lisa Marie Latino 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Long Shot Publishing
Publish Date: October 4, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "When New Jersey-based sports radio producer Carla D'Agostino receives a save-the-date for her ten-year high school reunion, she is thrown into a tailspin. She is miserably single, living at home with her old-school Italian-American family, and miles away from her dream job as a sports talk radio host. She voices her discontent to her closest friends, the stunning Andrea, cheerful Katie, and playboy Dante, and they encourage Carla to stand up and fight for the life she wants. Inspired by their words, Carla sets her plans in motion. She enlists the help of a personal trainer, tapes a sports commentary demo with Dante for her unconventional WSPS boss Dan, and gets back into the dating game for the first time since her heart was broken by her first love. But the universe has different ideas for Carla than she has for herself, and she suffers setback after setback: Dan gives the afternoon host position to a Los Angeles import, and, worse yet, offers Dante a gig, which he accepts, much to Carla s hurt and dismay. More determined than ever, Carla continues to throw herself at life with gusto, and a series of surprises, both good and bad, lead her straight into the arms of a love that never really left."

My Two Cents:

"Ten Years Later" is the story of Carla, a 27 year old staring down the barrel of her ten year high school reunion and she's wondering what her life has amounted to and how she can show her face when it seems like all of her classmates seem to be so much further ahead her in life. So she makes a plan to turn her life around and to finally get what she has always dreamed of and her plan goes awry and hilarity ensues.

This is a very funny story about trying to figure out where you're going and how you can get there. Carla is a great character. She's funny and she's imperfect in a way that seems real. She seems to be going through some sort of quarter life crisis in this book, which I think a lot of people can find some commonality with. Throughout the book, we get to see her grow and change throughout the book. She starts out not being sure how to get what she wants and we see how she becomes more assertive throughout the book. It's a great transformation to watch!

The writing of the book was addictive for the most part. I loved following Carla to see where she goes. The book is pretty hefty and I think there were definitely parts that could have been streamlined to make the book move along a little bit more. That being said, overall, this is a great story with a dash of romance and a healthy helping of heart.


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, American friends! May your day be filled with friends, family, food, and lots and lots of books!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Review: The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy by Masha Gessen

Title: The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy 
Author: Masha Gessen
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Riverhead Books

Publish Date: April 7, 2015
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "The facts of the tragedy are established: On April 15, 2013, two homemade bombs fashioned from pressure cookers exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and wounding 264 others. The elder of the brothers suspected of committing this atrocity, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, died in the ensuing manhunt; Dzhokhar will stand trial in January 2015. What we don’t know is why. How did such a nightmare come to pass?

This is a probing and powerful story of dislocation, and the longing for clarity and identity that can reach the point of combustion. Bestselling Russian-American author Masha Gessen is uniquely endowed with the background, access, and talent to tell it. She explains who the brothers were and how they came to do what they appear to have done. From their displaced beginnings, as descendants of ethnic Chechens deported to Central Asia in the Stalin era, Gessen follows them as they are displaced again, from strife-ridden Kyrgyzstan to war-torn Dagestan, and then, as émigrés to the United States, into an utterly disorienting new world. Most crucially, she reconstructs the struggle between assimilation and alienation that ensued for each of the brothers, fueling their apparent metamorphosis into a new breed of homegrown terrorist, with their feet on American soil but their loyalties elsewhere—a split in identity that seems to have incubated a deadly sense of mission."

My Two Cents:

"The Brothers" is a nonfiction book about the Tsarnaev brothers who committed the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. This book explores the story of their family and where they came from and what may have driven each of them to do what they did on that tragic day. It is an interesting story of terrorism with both foreign and domestic influence.

This book also happens to be one of my favorite nonfiction authors, Masha Gessen, a reporter who is known for her focus on Russian related subjects. As with a lot of other Gessen's books, she does a great job of giving a lot of different sides to the story so that you're really able to understand why things happen the way that they happened. She sheds a lot of light on the situation and looks at all of the complicated angles of this event.

This book really drew me in. Not only because it's tragic but because I was so wondering about what would drive people who came to this country trying to escape terrorism to commit more terrorist attacks. It was really interesting to see the differences between both of the brothers. This is a sad account of what led to an American tragedy that is still on so many of our minds.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Review: The Best Possible Answer by E. Katherine Kottaras

Title: The Best Possible Answer
Author: E. Katherine Kottaras
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publish Date: November 1, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "AP Exams – check
SAT test – check
College Application – check
Date the wrong guy and ruin everything you’ve spent your whole life working for– check

Ultra-high-achiever Viviana Rabinovich-Lowe has always had a plan—and no room to be anything less than perfect. But her quest for perfection comes to a screeching halt when her boyfriend leaks racy pictures of her to the entire school. Making matters worse, her parents are getting divorced and now her perfect family is falling apart. For the first time, Viv feels like a complete and utter failure.

Then she gets a job working at the community pool, where she meets a new group of friends who know nothing about her past. That includes Evan, a gorgeous guy who makes her want to do something she never thought she’d do again: trust. For the first time in her life, Viv realizes she can finally be whoever she wants. But who is that? While she tries to figure it out, she learns something they never covered in her AP courses: that it’s okay to be less than perfect, because it’s our imperfections that make us who we are."

My Two Cents:

In "The Best Possible Answer," chronic overachiever Viv is trying to continue to over-achieve while trying not to pay attention to her life as she knows it falling apart. Her dad has disappeared. She doesn't understand it but she's trying to protect her beloved sister from worrying about it as well. The guy that should be interested in her best friend is interested in Viv instead. She is stuck in a job at the local pool rather than at engineering camp, which is where she wants to be. Oh, and she is still dealing with the fallout of nude selfies of her being passed around school.

So you can see that there is a lot of stuff going on in this book. While I enjoyed the book, I think that the story definitely could have been a little streamlined. It felt like we got a little detail about all of the problems instead of a lot of information about a few problems. I found myself wanting to understand more about what was going on with specific issues and not being able to get into the book quite as much due to the lack in focus.

The issue that I found myself most interested in was the situation with Viv's family. Her dad disappears for almost a year and is supposedly working in Asia but they never hear from him. Viv's mom doesn't want to talk about what happened or when he might come back or even if he might come back. As the story unfolds, we eventually find out what's going on and it turns everything Viv thought she knew upside down. It's in this situation that we really get to see who Viv is and how she deals with vulnerability.

Overall, I liked the concept of the book and found it engaging. I wanted to know more about some of the key issues in the book but it was still a good read!


Monday, November 21, 2016

Review: Golden Dragon by V.E. Ulett

Title: Golden Dragon
Author: V.E. Ulett
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Self-published
Publish Date: October 30, 2016
Source: Author

What's the Story?:

From "Romance, Intrigue, and Airships - Code Black Book 1

Miriam Kodio Blackwell is caught between East and West. When a Code Black arises she is recruited by Lord Q, head of British intelligence and airships, who helps Miriam escape Iran only to press her into service of the Crown. Will Miriam survive when she's put aboard the airship Nonesuch—with her captain, crew, and a Hell-Cat of fearsome reputation—and the assignment to rescue the niece of a Dutch ally taken captive in the South China Sea?

Golden Dragon is a witty new steampunk adventure, set in the Romantic age of Byron and Shelley."

My Two Cents:

"Golden Dragon" is the first in a steampunk series geared for YA readers by V.E. Ulett, an author whose previous writing has been in the historical fiction realm.  This book is historical fantasy and opens a very exciting new world for readers. Miriam thinks danger has passed when she escapes Iran until she is forced into service to the British crown. Miriam has to rise above her initial fears in order to forge a new life for herself aboard the Nonesuch, a ship that has much more than meets the eye. Filled with a healthy dose of magic and adventure, this book is a promising opening to a new series.

Miriam is a great character. Due to her sex and the time in which she lives in, she at first seems a little limited in what she can do to affect what direction her life takes. She figures out quickly how to use what she has in order to make an impact. I also love that she is very much a character off of the beaten path. Her backstory is so interesting and it makes a great set-up for all that she goes through in this book. The secondary characters are also great and I loved how the author is able to weave together quite the motley crew of different characters. It adds to the interest of the book for sure!

As I mentioned before, V.E. Ulett has written historical fiction before this book. In fact, Miriam is related to some of the characters in Ulett's Captain Blackwell books. I loved that she did that! It made Miriam feel a little more real to me. I think the rich historical detail makes this book feel very grounded in fact and lends to the world building throughout the book. World building is always very important to me in fantasy books and this book definitely has a lot of good world building and detail that makes it easy to picture what Miriam's world is like.

This is the first steampunk book that I have ever read and wow, was it a good introduction to this new world! I am very excited to see what new adventures will await the characters in the next book!
This is a solid pick!


Friday, November 18, 2016

Review: Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner

Title: Who Do You Love
Author: Jennifer Weiner
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Atria Books
Publish Date: August 11, 2015
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Rachel Blum and Andy Landis are eight years old when they meet late one night in an ER waiting room. Born with a congenital heart defect, Rachel is a veteran of hospitals, and she's intrigued by the boy who shows up all alone with a broken arm. He tells her his name. She tells him a story. After Andy's taken back to the emergency room and Rachel's sent back to her bed, they think they'll never see each other again.

Rachel, the beloved, popular, and protected daughter of two doting parents, grows up wanting for nothing in a fancy Florida suburb. Andy grows up poor in Philadelphia with a single mom and a rare talent that will let him become one of the best runners of his generation.

Over the course of three decades, through high school and college, marriages and divorces, from the pinnacles of victory and the heartbreak of defeat, Andy and Rachel will find each other again and again, until they are finally given a chance to decide whether love can surmount difference and distance and if they've been running toward each other all along."

My Two Cents:

In "Who Do You Love," Rachel and Andy meet as young kids in a hospital. Rachel is the protected child of two loving parents (who sometimes verge on being over-protective). Andy lives with his single mom who is trying to make ends meet. Over a few decades, Rachel and Andy will move in and out of each other's lives as something seems to keep pulling them back together. This is a story of fate versus random coincidence.

I have read so many of Jennifer Weiner's books and have really enjoyed it. One of the things that I like best about her books is her characters. She has a real talent for writing great characters that feel real. I loved both Rachel and Andy. Because the book takes place over such a long period of time, we get a chance to see how the characters grow and change. I really liked how you get to see both the good sides and bad sides of both Andy and Rachel. These flaws made them feel more real to me!

I like books that make me think about the "what ifs" in life. As I mentioned before, this book is about fate and fate giving chances over and over again to do what is meant to be. It's a neat idea, especially in the case between Rachel and Andy where the reader can clearly see what is meant to be long before the characters come to the realization! This was a good read!


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Review: Poetry for Kids: Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson, Christine Davenier (Illustrations), Susan Snively (Editor)

Title: Poetry for Kids: Emily Dickinson 
Author: Emily Dickinson, Christine Davenier (Illustrations), Susan Snively (Editor) 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: MoonDance Press
Publish Date: December 1, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "As the premier title in the Poetry for Kids series, Emily Dickinson introduces children to the works of poet Emily Dickinson. Poet, professor, and scholar Susan Snively has carefully chosen 35 poems of interest to children and their families. Each poem is beautifully illustrated by Christine Davenier and thoroughly explained by an expert. The gentle introduction, which is divided into sections by season of the year, includes commentary, definitions of important words, and a foreword."

My Two Cents:

"Poetry for Kids: Emily Dickinson" is the first book in a new series of poetry for children. Drawing on the works of Emily Dickinson, this book is a great collection to introduce your children to the great works of this poet. I have loved some of Dickinson's poetry so much and was very anxious to share it with my daughters.

Filled with gorgeous illustrations and broken up into different sections by season, this book is a treat for the entire family. While I've read some of Dickinson's poems myself, there was really something special about this book being geared for children. I really enjoyed that I also got a lot out of this book while sharing it with my 18-month-old daughters. I don't believe that kids are ever too young to start hearing poetry and other books. Obviously with my girls only being 18 months old, these poems are probably going to go over their heads. I really think this is a great book that will grow with my girls. This is a wonderful book to share with your little ones to open a brand-new world of poetry up to them. It makes for perfect bedtime stories!


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

TLC Book Tours: The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Title: The Invasion of the Tearling
Author: Erika Johansen 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publish Date: June 9, 2015
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins 

What's the Story?:

From "With each passing day, Kelsea Glynn is growing into her new responsibilities as Queen of the Tearling. By stopping the shipments of slaves to the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne, she crossed the Red Queen, a brutal ruler whose power derives from dark magic, who is sending her fearsome army into the Tearling to take what is hers. And nothing can stop the invasion.

But as the Mort army draws ever closer, Kelsea develops a mysterious connection to a time before the Crossing, and she finds herself relying on a strange and possibly dangerous ally: a woman named Lily, fighting for her life in a world where being female can feel like a crime. The fate of the Tearling —and that of Kelsea’s own soul—may rest with Lily and her story, but Kelsea may not have enough time to find out."

My Two Cents:

"The Invasion of the Tearling" is the second book in the "The Queen of the Tearling" trilogy. I really enjoyed the first book and very excited to get to this book. In this book, Kelsea is coming to terms with being queen. She is learning what she can and cannot do. She also is starting to learn how she must rule. She is also having very vivid dreams about a woman named Lily who lived back before the Crossing, an event that we find out a lot more about in this book.

Okay, so a lot of the stuff that I wanted to know in the first book started to come together. This twist was really fantastic but I really don't want to give anything away so pardon me for being vague. We find out that the situation in Kelsea's world was caused by some sort of event and that her world is far in the future from our world. The way that the author starts bringing Kelsea and Lily's world together is fascinating. We then are able to begin to understand why Kelsea's world is so violent and why things are the way that they are. I love dystopian fiction but I always want to understand why things are the way that they are and this book does such a good job of this!

This book is both entertaining but definitely made me think as well. We see the juxtaposition of how women in Kelsea's world are treated and women in Lily's world are treated. It is such an interesting comparison. Lily's world seems much more familiar to current day readers than Kelsea's will, which makes Lily's world a little more frightening. It also grounded Kelsea's world in a bit more reality for me, which I really appreciated.

I have been craving dystopian fiction in light of all that is going on in our world. This second book has thrilled me and I am anxious to see where the third book goes. I'm already dreading reading the third book because this is only a trilogy!

Follow the rest of the tour here!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Review: Semi-Scripted by Amanda Heger

Title: Semi-Scripted
Author: Amanda Heger
Format: ARC
Publisher: Diversion Books
Publish Date: November 8, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Marisol Gutierrez has come to Los Angeles with a single goal: win the prestigious grant that will save her family's struggling medical clinic back in Nicaragua. But, when a cute guy invites her to sit in the audience of a hip-but-failing comedy program, Marisol figures she'll get a little entertainment out of her otherwise stress-filled trip.

Evan Abramson thought an internship at "The So Late It's Early Show" would be the start of a long television-writing career, but their ratings are sinking. With every show, his plans seem one step closer to collapse. When a backstage crisis throws him into an onstage encounter with a gorgeous and charming audience member, Evan and Marisol become overnight sensations. And soon their made-for-television romance is the only thing keeping "So Late" from cancellation.

As things heat up onscreen and off, Marisol and Evan are caught between their careers and their growing feelings for one another. Being together in front of the cameras puts Marisol's grant at risk, but keeping their romance offscreen means Evan's show is sure to fail. Together they have to decide whether to stick with the script and save their careers or improvise their way toward a happily ever after."

My Two Cents:

In "Semi-Scripted," Marisol finds herself in L.A. on a mission. The health clinic her family owns is in major trouble. Marisol knows she needs to do something to save the clinic but since she happens to be in the same place as where her favorite game show is taped, she figures she may want to do something while biding her time. She doesn't get into her favorite game show but she does meet Evan, a guy who works for sort of a down-on-its-luck show and hilarity and romance ensue.

This is a meet-cute romance with an original story line. Marisol and Evan are both great characters. Marisol has a great heart; she is driven to make sure that she is able to save the health clinic. She is also witty and funny as we see in some of the first scenes with Evan. Evan just wants to break in to show business and it doesn't look like the show where he is an intern is going to be his big break since it is failing so badly. When Marisol and Evan are together, they play so well off each other and have a lot of chemistry. I love how the author that was able to capture that chemistry!

This is a really cute story and I loved the romance. It's a quick read and whetted my appetite for more. I would have loved to get to know the characters a little bit better. The book ends with an ending that seems like there could be room for another story.  

Friday, November 11, 2016

HF Virtual Book Tours Author Guest Post: Jane Marlow, Author of Who is to Blame?

I am so happy to welcome Jane Marlow here to A Bookish Affair today!


Thanks so much, Meg, for including me on A Bookish Affair and congrats on having such a polished blog!

Eighteen years ago, I began conducting research on an intriguing chunk of history that had been largely overlooked by today’s novelists.  I learned that 200 years ago, agricultural Russia was as economically dependent upon its serfs as the southern U.S. states were upon slaves.  Both serfs and slaves endured degrading and exhausting lives which ended in an early death, even by 19th-century standards.

To effectively tell a fictional tale set in 1800s rural Russia, I felt I must show the disparities through the eyes of both the haves (nobility) and the have-nots (serfs).  For example, in the following except, a peasant, 14-year-old Anna, just returned from her first visit inside the estate mansion and is describing it to her mother.

   “The men carry little pieces of cloth in their pockets.” She held her hands so her extended fingers made a square the size of a stool’s seat. “When they need to blow their nose, they take out the cloth, put their snot into it, fold it up, and put it back into their pocket.”
    Her mother ran the peculiar scenario through her mind. “Are you sure?”
    Anna’s head rocked up and down. “I saw it.”

I hope Who Is to Blame is an eye-opener regarding the 1861 emancipation of the serfs, as well as the resulting collapse of the rural gentry’s life of privilege and gay carelessness.

Anyone interested in delving deeper into the culture and history of Russia (a country truly like no other) is invited to read my free e-newsletter.  Chockful of Russian riddles, proverbs, artwork, and tidbits of 19th century life, the newsletter is designed for inquisitive people who prefer to chuckle while they learn.  No spam.

Warmest regards and well wishes for a future full of mind-awakening books!
Jane Marlow

Thursday, November 10, 2016

HF Virtual Book Tours: Who Is to Blame? by Jane Marlow

Title: Who Is to Blame?
Author: Jane Marlow
Format: Paperback
Publisher: River Grove Books
Publish Date: October 18, 2016
Source: HF Virtual Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "Who is to Blame? is a historical saga of two families—one born of noble heritage and the other bound as serfs to the noble’s household. Set during the mid-1800s in the vast grainfields of Russia, Who Is to Blame? follows the lives of two star-crossed serfs, Elizaveta and Feodor, torn apart by their own families and the Church while simultaneously trapped in the inhumane life of poverty to which they were born.

At the other end of the spectrum, Count Maximov and his family struggle to maintain harmony amidst a tapestry of deception and debauchery woven by the Count’s son. The plot twists further when the Tsar emancipates twenty million serfs from bondage as the rural gentry’s life of privilege and carelessness takes its final bow, and much of Russia’s nobility faces possible financial ruin.

The novel’s riddles flow subtly throughout, spurring readers to ponder where the blame actually lies. In the end, we must tap into our own hearts to navigate the depths and quandaries of the author’s perplexing question."

My Two Cents:

"Who is to Blame?" is the story of serfs who work the land and nobles who direct the work in Russia in the mid to late 1800s. I am absolutely fascinated by Russian history and always find myself wishing that I could find more historical fiction set in Russia. The history is so rich with good fodder for stories as we can see in this book.

This book has a huge cast and is split in chapters by the serfs and the nobles. We get to see how each side sees life differently and how they affected by the rapid changes happening throughout the country. On the serf side, the narrative focuses largely on Elizaveta, who is my favorite character and one of the characters that we get to know best throughout the story. She works hard and has dreams of marrying her true love; however, that is not to be. Her family gets to choose the course for her, including getting married to a husband who is not content to let her express any of her own free will.

On the noble side, we see the struggles of Count Maximov, who is trying to balance both running his family and the changing political climate where his role as a noble is slowly leaking power. It was fascinating to read about the interactions between the serfs and the nobles and how they work with and against each other. Class is such an interesting topic here in how it affects what people are able to do or not to do. I loved reading about how the characters operated in these confines.

The writing of the book was very good. I loved the way that the author was able to weave in a lot of detail to explain the time and place that the story falls in. It's important detail and makes for a very rich collection of story lines. I was so interested in a lot of the detail that I found myself wanting more, not because there was a lack of detail but because the wealth of detail was so good that I did not want the book to end! This is a fantastic debut!


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

TLC Book Tours: Beauty and Attention by Liz Rosenberg

Title: Beauty and Attention
Author: Liz Rosenberg 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Publish Date: October 25, 2016 
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "For misfit Libby Archer, social expectations for young women in Rochester, New York, in the mid-1950s don’t work. Her father has died, leaving her without parents, and her well-meaning friends are pressuring her to do what any sensible single girl must do: marry a passionate, persistent hometown suitor with a promising future. Yet Libby boldly defies conventional wisdom and plans to delay marriage—to anyone—by departing for her uncle’s Belfast estate. In Ireland, Libby seeks not only the comfort of family but also greater opportunities than seem possible during the stifling McCarthy era at home.

Across the Atlantic, Libby finds common ground with her brilliant, invalid cousin, Lazarus, then puts her trust in a sophisticated older woman who seems to be everything she hopes to become. Fraught with betrayal and long-kept secrets, as well as sudden wealth and unexpected love, Libby’s journey toward independence takes turns she never could have predicted—and calls on courage and strength she never knew she had."

My Two Cents: 

In "Beauty and Attention," Libby is a young woman trying to make a decision that faced so many women during the 1950s. Things were much different then when women were basically expected to get married and have kids. If they did work a job, it was something like a secretary or another job that wasn't anything like what men were able to do. Libby rejects that idea and finds herself across the ocean in Belfast drawn to a world that she is only beginning to understand.

Books like this make me so happy that I have all of the choices that I have as a woman now. I appreciated that Libby was not content to simply do what society expected of her. She has that gumption in the very beginning of the book and it sticks through right until the end. I really liked seeing the world through her eyes where going off the path that everyone else seems to expect for her barely seems to faze her. This is a strong, independent woman that I really enjoyed following throughout the story.

While I appreciated Libby's character and was drawn to her story, the writing of the book lost me a little bit. This is a relatively short book but there is so much telling rather than showing. In trying to introduce detail to the book, the narrative really gets bogged down and made this book feel like a bit of a slog in some parts. Overall, this was an interesting story that could have been edited more.


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

TLC Book Tours: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Title: The Queen of the Tearling
Author: Erika Johansen
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publish Date: July 8, 2014
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins

What's the Story?:

From "On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.

Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust.

But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend . . . if she can survive."

My Two Cents:

"The Queen of the Tearling" is the story of Kelsea, a 19 year old girl that grew up relatively sheltered away from the kingdom that she is now inheriting from her mother. She knows little of what she will face as she takes the crown and puts her life in danger in this brand new world. This is one of those series that I have been waiting to get around to and after reading this first book, I can't believe it took me so long to get to it.

This is the first book in a trilogy and it was a great kickoff. The author does a good job of setting the stage for what Kelsea will face in future books. This book introduces us to the plight of the Tearling and what their enemies are willing to do in order to take their land. We get insight into where the issues really began, which I enjoyed.

Kelsea is incredibly naive when the book opens. She almost seemed younger than 19 when the book first opens. Her childhood seemed relatively coddled and comfortable. We get to see as she figures out that the real world is much different than her life with her caretakers Carlin and Barty who sheltered her from a lot of the bad things that she would eventually face as the Queen of the Tearling. She is on her own to figure out who she can actually trust. Those that work for her may have ulterior motives and she is not sure who to trust. Throughout this book, she begins to build more confidence and understanding about the level that she must rise to. I loved reading about this transition and am excited to see her growth throughout this series. 

I was also fascinated by the Red Queen. She is sort of a shadowy figure in this book and her magic is incredibly dark. Some of the scenes with her were some of the most vividly described scenes of the book. She is definitely creepy and seems to have a much better understanding of her power that Kelsea has of her own power. I am anxious to see how this plays out in the later books.

Fantasy books are a little bit of a mixed bag for me. I need there to be good world building in it and luckily in this book, there is definitely that. Kelsea's world is a bit of a combination of different things. It feels old and is filled with magic. I loved the way that the author was able to make the magical aspects, especially those associated with the Red Queen, feel real. I did want a little more of a context as to how the world came about. With names like New London, there is definitely some sort of real-world context but the land seems made up. Hopefully more detail on the land and those that fill it will be a part of the later books in the series.

Overall, this was a really good opening to a series that I am excited to continue. This book is a good pick for you if you like fantasy and adventure stories. You will also like this book if you like good world building. I really enjoyed this first book and am excited to see where the other books go!

Monday, November 7, 2016

HF Virtual Book Tours: A Song of War: A Novel of Troy by Kate Quinn, Christian Cameron, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Russell Whitfield, S.J.A. Turney, Libbie Hawker, and Stephanie Thornton

Title: A Song of War: A Novel of Troy
Author: Kate Quinn, Christian Cameron, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Russell Whitfield, S.J.A. Turney, Libbie Hawker, and Stephanie Thornton
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Knight Media, LLC
Publish Date: October 18, 2016
Source: HF Virtual Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "Troy: city of gold, gatekeeper of the east, haven of the god-born and the lucky, a city destined to last a thousand years. But the Fates have other plans—the Fates, and a woman named Helen. In the shadow of Troy's gates, all must be reborn in the greatest war of the ancient world: slaves and queens, heroes and cowards, seers and kings . . . and these are their stories.

A young princess and an embittered prince join forces to prevent a fatal elopement.

A tormented seeress challenges the gods themselves to save her city from the impending disaster.

A tragedy-haunted king battles private demons and envious rivals as the siege grinds on.

A captured slave girl seizes the reins of her future as two mighty heroes meet in an epic duel.

A grizzled archer and a desperate Amazon risk their lives to avenge their dead.

A trickster conceives the greatest trick of all.

A goddess' son battles to save the spirit of Troy even as the walls are breached in fire and blood."

My Two Cents:

"A Song of War" is a new book by the H team, authors of "A Day of Fire" and "A Year of Ravens." As with the other books, this book features a slightly different set of authors, all well qualified to take readers on a journey to the past. This book focuses on Troy. The ancient world is still a subject that is really new for me as far as reading topics go. The Trojan War is one of those subjects where I just haven't read a whole lot about. I know the basics: the gorgeous Helen of Troy, the horse, and how long it took for Troy to finally fall. I knew I was in good hands with these authors to shed a little more light on things for me.

First off, I really liked how this book was able to focus on so many different facets of the war. You have all of the big personalities. You have the hubris of so many of the characters playing into getting them into trouble (isn't that always the way thought?). You have the difference in opinion as to where things should go in the future. You have the fighting itself. There is a lot to like by different people in this book. Yeah, there is battles but I was impressed with how these authors were able to give a human face to what the war actually meant and how it impacted so many people and the futures of so many different groups.

Characters are huge with this group. The ancient world did seem to have a male-driven focus but what was so surprising to me in this book is that the females definitely drive the action as well. In the very first story of the book, we meet Helen, the face that launched a thousand ships. She basically comes to Troy willingly, everyone else be damned. Again, my knowledge of the Trojan War is lacking but it always seemed to me like Helen was taken against her will so I loved the spin of her just kind of pooh, poohing her husband and his family and not caring that she may have just started a war. I just wanted to shake her and ask her if she knew how much trouble she was going to cause! Her cavalier attitude definitely made her a character that I loved to hate.

Although there are some great male characters in the book, they were much more familiar to me than the women and I loved getting insight into the women of the time. Their roles usually could not be as forward as the men but they are able to yield their power in some really great ways throughout the book as it goes on that made for a really good read. There is Cassandra, who was the twin of Hellenus. She was a priestess that her family pretty much seemed ashamed of so they lock her away. She is fascinating because the reader is forced to confront whether or not she is mad or if she may be the smartest of the bunch. She is fascinating to me. I really enjoyed reading the sections of the book where she appeared. There is Penthislea, an Amazon warrior. After meeting her in the first part of the book, I was thrilled that she got her own section. I can't recall reading any historical fiction about the Amazon warriors so I loved learning a little more about them throughout the book.

Now as much as I loved the characters, I loved that the book was driven by action as well. This book is incredibly fast past and a great ride. The personalities and the writing styles are different from writer to writer and story to story and this really led to the book feeling like it was very well-rounded. I love how this group of authors have been able to tackle subjects that often still seem like they are off the beaten path for historical fiction! This is a great ride!


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Review: Crossing the Horizon by Laurie Notaro

Title: Crossing the Horizon
Author: Laurie Notaro
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publish Date: October 4, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Ten thousand feet in the sky, flipping and twirling through the air, aviatrixes from London to Paris to New York—fueled by determination and courage—have their eyes on the century’s biggest prize. The year is 1927, and Amelia Earhart has not yet made her record-breaking cross-Atlantic flight. Who will follow in Charles Lindbergh’s footsteps and make her own history?

Three women’s names are splashed daily across the front page: Elsie Mackay, daughter of an Earl, is the first Englishwoman to get her pilot’s license. Mabel Boll, a glamorous society darling and former cigar girl, is ardent to make the historic flight. Beauty pageant contestant Ruth Elder uses her winnings for flying lessons and becomes the preeminent American girl of the sky.

Inspired by true events and real people, Notaro vividly evokes this exciting time as her determined heroines vie for the record. Through striking photos, meticulous research, and atmospheric prose, Notaro brings Elsie, Mabel, and Ruth to life, pulling us back in time as the pilots collide, struggle, and literally crash in the chase for fame and a place in aviation history."

My Two Cents:

"Crossing the Horizon" is a historical fiction tale about three women who are vying to be the female follow-up to Charles Lindbergh's crossing of the Atlantic. The book follows also Elsie, a woman from a rich English family who is the first Englishwoman to get her pilot's license. There is Mabel a spoiled rich woman who won't take no for an answer. There is also Ruth, who becomes one of the American women in the race. The book follows these very different women and all that they'll go through in order to try to mark their names on history. 

Flying during that time is not something that I would really want to do. After reading some of the descriptions in the book, especially the description of Ruth and her copilot flying through a storm in an open air airplane definitely makes me think that I would not like to fly in one of those planes. The author definitely knows how to write a harrowing scene! 

The author does a great job of explaining the circumstances of these women's flight and just how difficult their goal actually was to obtain. I really like the descriptions of each of the women. The author does a really good job of giving each woman her own voice and her own thoughts and feelings. I think aviation history of the early 20th-century is so fascinating. Although I'd never like to fly planes, I'm incredibly interested in them as my husband has his private pilot's license. In fact there were several parts of the book that I had to read out loud to him just because it was so unbelievable all that these women went through as they were still trying to reach the goal of being the first woman across the ocean. The stories were so fascinating that I had to look up some of the true stories of these women after reading this book. That is most definitely a good mark of good historical fiction. I recommend this book to those that like historical fiction with a side of adventure.

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