Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Queen of the Tearling

Author: Erika Johansen
Genre: Fantasy
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 448
Series: #1 in the Queen of the Tearling series
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Harper
First Published: July 2014
First Line: "Young Kelsea Raleigh was raised in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, far from the intrigues of the royal Keep and in the care of two devoted servants who pledged their lives to protect her. 

Book Description from GoodReadsAn untested young princess must claim her throne, learn to become a queen, and combat a malevolent sorceress in an epic battle between light and darkness in this spectacular debut—the first novel in a trilogy.

Young Kelsea Raleigh was raised in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, far from the intrigues of the royal Keep and in the care of two devoted servants who pledged their lives to protect her. Growing up in a cottage deep in the woods, Kelsea knows little of her kingdom's haunted past . . . or that its fate will soon rest in her hands.

Long ago, Kelsea's forefathers sailed away from a decaying world to establish a new land free of modern technology. Three hundred years later, this feudal society has divided into three fearful nations who pay duties to a fourth: the powerful Mortmesne, ruled by the cunning Red Queen. Now, on Kelsea's nineteenth birthday, the tattered remnants of the Queen's Guard—loyal soldiers who protect the throne—have appeared to escort the princess on a perilous journey to the capital to ascend to her rightful place as the new Queen of the Tearling.

Though born of royal blood and in possession of the Tear sapphire, a jewel of immense power and magic, Kelsea has never felt more uncertain of her ability to rule. But the shocking evil she discovers in the heart of her realm will precipitate an act of immense daring, throwing the entire kingdom into turmoil—and unleashing the Red Queen's vengeance. A cabal of enemies with an array of deadly weapons, from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic, plots to destroy her. But Kelsea is growing in strength and stealth, her steely resolve earning her loyal allies, including the Queen's Guard, led by the enigmatic Lazarus, and the intriguing outlaw known simply as "the Fetch."

Kelsea's quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun. Riddled with mysteries, betrayals, and treacherous battles, Kelsea's journey is a trial by fire that will either forge a legend . . . or destroy her.

My Review: This book was a blend of a lot of things.  It's full of adventure, action, magic, fantasy, dystopian with a strong historical feel to it and it was a good read.  At the centre of the book is Kelsea, the young girl who was raised in seclusion until it was her time to take back the throne.  She's a smart, strong teen who was fairly easy to get behind as the main character. I loved that her main focus upon taking her throne back was putting her kingdom to rights and standing up for the 'little guy' with strength and compassion.  She's not a fluffy, pink princess looking for her Prince Charming but a force to be reckoned with.

I'll admit that I never quite got a handle on the interesting, and quite confusing, world that the story is set in.  It's a post-technology/dystopian setting but with a very Medieval feel to it.  Some unnamed catastrophe has occurred and humans have made The Crossing to a new land.  I'm still not sure if it's some new land mass, part of England or what happened to everyone who didn't make the Crossing.  Are they alive?  Dead?  Who knows.  Not me, apparently.  

Once these people Crossed they left behind all modern conveniences (cars, computers, medicines ...) and now live a medieval way of life.  Why?  Again, who knows.  Honestly, it's hard to wrap your head around and some of the ideas don't quite make sense if you think on them too long.  The inconsistencies are there but I chose not to dwell on them and hope that in future books they will be made more clear to the reader. Plus, once I chose not to worry about figuring it all out I got sucked into the story line and even enjoyed some of the references to the 'old world' - specifically specifically the Harry Potter reference of "seven volumes of Rowling". :)

The secondary characters were varied and interesting for the most part but it was Mace/Lazarus who stole the show for me.  I look forward to learning more about this mysterious man. The Fetch, Master of Thieves?  Not as much. First, I wasn't fond of his moniker (side note: I couldn't get Mean Girls 'fetch' references out of my mind when I initially read his name - 'Stop try to make fetch happen!') and he didn't have enough page time for me to get a good feel for him.  Honestly The Fetch seemed a little too good to be true and his appearances didn't endear him to me ... at least not yet.  I predict he'll have a much bigger role in the future books.

There is a really dark and sinister character in the Red Queen and she makes things interesting.  Super creepy, but interesting.  Evil, sadistic and power hungry she's an admirable foe to Kelsea.  With some of her actions I couldn't help but be reminded of Melisandre from Game of Thrones but I still enjoyed learning more about her truly evil ways.

This was a good start to a new series. I found it to keep my interest and have a slow but gripping story line.  It left me with enough unfinished business (budding relationships, what is the blue jewel? ...) to be eager to pick up the second book in the series, Invasion of the Tearling (which I've been advised by a 17 year old co-worker at the library that it's even better than this book!).  I look forward to reading more about the daunting task ahead of Kelsea as she tries to right the wrongs her mother's time as Queen put upon her people.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Gilded Hour

Author: Sara Donati
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 752
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Berkley
First Published: September 1, 2015

Book Description from GoodReadsThe international bestselling author of Into the Wilderness makes her highly anticipated return with a remarkable epic about two female doctors in nineteenth-century New York and the transcendent power of courage and love…

The year is 1883, and in New York City, it’s a time of dizzying splendor, crushing poverty, and tremendous change. With the gravity-defying Brooklyn Bridge nearly complete and New York in the grips of anti-vice crusader Anthony Comstock, Anna Savard and her cousin Sophie—both graduates of the Woman’s Medical School—treat the city’s most vulnerable, even if doing so may put everything they’ve strived for in jeopardy.

Anna's work has placed her in the path of four children who have lost everything, just as she herself once had. Faced with their helplessness, Anna must make an unexpected choice between holding on to the pain of her past and letting love into her life.

For Sophie, an obstetrician and the orphaned daughter of free people of color, helping a desperate young mother forces her to grapple with the oath she took as a doctor—and thrusts her and Anna into the orbit of Anthony Comstock, a dangerous man who considers himself the enemy of everything indecent and of anyone who dares to defy him.

With its vivid depictions of old New York and its enormously appealing characters, The Gilded Hour is a captivating, emotionally gripping novel that proves Sara Donati is an author at the height of her powers.

My Review: About a decade ago I started reading Donati's Into the Wilderness series and became utterly enthralled with the Bonner family's lives, loves, trials and tribulations.  After waiting for what seemed like forever I was beyond thrilled to learn that Donati had written a new book.

This book focuses on the lives of two young female doctors, Sophie and Anna Savard who are cousins.  While the first part of the book bounces back and forth between the two cousins' stories the second half of the book centres around Anna.  Truth be told I liked her story line better anyway but I predict that Sophie will have more page time in future books in what I hope to be a new series.

This book isn't fast-paced.  It's much more of a character-driven read that meanders through the lives of Anna and Sophie who are strong minded young doctors trying to make names for themselves in the male dominated field as well as dealing with their own personal lives.  This is a long book (700+ pages) so Donati takes time to include off-shoot story lines that may not progress the plot but gives the reader a chance to get to know more about her characters (and I suspect set up future story lines). 

There are a couple of mysteries throughout the book.  The first involves finding young missing orphaned brothers and the second is a much darker mystery that is at the core of the book and involves a murderer/serial killer.  I found this second mystery interesting but was a little frustrated to find that readers aren't privy to who the murderer is in this first book. 

One of Donati's traits as a writer is her unique ability to describe scenes and the era that surround her story.  In The Gilded Hour, Donati vividly describes life in late 1880's New York City as she weaves a story around Anna and Sophie's family.  It soon becomes clear that Donati has done her research of the era and doesn't shy away from sensitive topics.  She includes stories about women's reproductive rights, the plight of orphans in NYC, immigration, interracial marriage, bigotry, religion ...  There's a lot going on in this book but overall it works.

I always enjoy when a historical fiction author includes real people/story lines in their work.  In this instance Donati references some historical figures including Anthony Comstock whose organization, the Society for the Suppression of Vice, obsessively persecuted anyone, including doctors, for giving the public information about contraception and abortion.  Adding these tidbits of history gives the book a more authentic feel and made me want to learn more about the era.

One of my favourite parts actually came as a surprise to me.  Around page 300 I found out that some of the characters in this book are descendants of characters from Donati's Into the Wilderness series.  Gah!!  I had no idea that the series would be related and I admit that I had a bit of a fan moment when I made the connection.  I loved being reminded of some of the characters from a series that made such an impact on me as a reader.  Unfortunately, it has been a long time since I've read the first series so when the family connections were revealed I struggled to remember how people were related to each other.  A diagram of a family tree would have helped a lot (instead I went online and found it).

Romance lovers will enjoy that there is some l'amour embedded in this book.  The main romance is between Anna and police detective Jack Mezzanotte.  It was a sweet romance that was fairly easy to get behind even if it happened quickly.  Even though Jack is quite involved in the book the reader unfortunately doesn't get a chance to really get to know him.  I felt the same way with Sophie's love interest, Cap Verhoeven who didn't have a big role in the book.  I think a little more background/point of view from the men would have gone a long way in making them a more essential part of the story.

Donati once again shares her ability to pull readers into her stories right from the beginning.  She has believable characters that readers can easily get behind and while I wasn't overly happy that all of the story lines weren't tied up nicely I can guarantee that if Ms Donati writes more books to make this a series I will be picking them up to see how things play out.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Paris Time Capsule & Book Giveaway!!!

Author: Ella Carey
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Mystery
Type: Paperback
Pages: 290
Source: TLC Book Tours
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
First Published: May 26, 2015
First Line: "A parcel was wrapped in brown paper and tied with an unblemished silk ribbon."

Book Description from GoodReadsNew York–based photographer Cat Jordan is ready to begin a new life with her successful, button-down boyfriend. But when she learns that she’s inherited the estate of a complete stranger—a woman named Isabelle de Florian—her life is turned upside down.

Cat arrives in Paris to find that she is now the owner of a perfectly preserved Belle Époque apartment in the ninth arrondissement, and that the Frenchwoman’s family knew nothing about this secret estate. Amid these strange developments, Cat is left with burning questions: Who was Isabelle de Florian? And why did she leave the inheritance to Cat instead of her own family?

As Cat travels France in search of answers, she feels her grasp on her New York life starting to slip. With long-buried secrets coming to light and an attraction to Isabelle de Florian’s grandson growing too intense to ignore, Cat will have to decide what to let go of, and what to claim as her own.

My Review: I was eager to review this book as soon as I found out it was a mystery involving an American woman inheriting a Parisian apartment which hadn't been opened since WWII. Such an awesome premise!  Add in the fact that it is loosely based on a real Parisian apartment that was finally opened in 2010 after 70 years and you've just upped the 'I gotta read this' factor substantially.

I'd call this book a romance with a light historical fiction back drop and a mystery. There's a lot going on in this wee book.  Romance is typically not my favourite genre but the historical fiction aspect piqued my interest.  So it won't come as a big surprise that my favourite part of the book were the descriptions of Paris, the apartment and its contents.  I could have spent a lot more time reading about the vivid descriptions of Paris and the items in the apartment. Unfortunately one cannot live on descriptions of jambon baguettes and 1940's dresses alone (at least I don't think so).  Early on in the book it became apparent that there was less historical fiction/mystery and a lot more time focusing on the romantic aspect.  

The romance was cute if predictable which many readers may enjoy.  Cat, for the most part, is a good main character - flaws and all.  She had two different personalities - strong woman in France with Loic and the weak, unopinionated girlfriend to a cliched New York City socialite who patronized her constantly.  The weaker Cat was hard for me to read and for a smart woman she came off fairly obtuse about her love life.  But I enjoyed seeing her go through some self-development towards the end of the book.  

I was pleased to see the mystery become the focus of the book towards the end when the mystery twist was divulged.  The fact that I didn't guess the big reveal was great!  I also enjoyed how Carey took a small tidbit of history that many readers may not know about and brings it to the forefront and wraps her story around it.

If I had to give a couple of negatives about Paris Time Capsule it would be that at times the dialogue was weak and there was too much time spent on situations which were, in my opinion, unimportant to the overall plot.  For example, a lot of time was spent with the back and forth dialogue between Cat and Sylive of 'but you MUST take the inheritance' followed by 'no, YOU must have it, I insist'. Even with the reasons given it was still hard to understand why both sides were so adamant not to have the inheritance.  I'm sure a simpler way (perhaps getting Sylvie to claim it to reduce the high tax and then splitting it afterwards) would have been a much easier way to deal with the issue. I would have preferred for more time to be spent on engaging the reader in the historical mystery aspect which is why I picked up the book in the first place.  

Overall I found Paris Time Capsule to be a quick, entertaining, light read.  People who enjoy a quick read with a light historical fiction mystery and a strong romantic focus should enjoy this book.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to TLC Book Tours and Ella Carey for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Enter my Book Giveaway!!

The publisher has generously provided me one copy of Paris Time Capsule to give away! Just enter below!

Title: Paris Time Capsule
Author: Ella Carey
Format: Paperback
Shipping to: Canada and USA only
Duration of Giveaway: September 29 to October 7, 2015
Random Drawing - winner will be contacted via email. I will forward your name and address on to the publisher.

* one entry per person *

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Balsamic Cherry Tomato Sauce

Are you currently experiencing Cherry Tomato Overload in your home garden like I am?  Oh .. my ... gravy!  My one plant - yup ONE - has yielded over 1100 tomatoes this season. Why do I know that my plant has yielded 1100 tomatoes?  See, my uncle Don told me last year that his cherry tomato plant had given him over 1000 tomatoes.  Sounded like a challenge to me so I opted to count each and every little red globe that I picked off of my plant this summer.  A little competitive?  You betcha we are.

1100 tomatoes is a LOT so I've been giving these babies out to everyone and anyone who wants them - including the dry wall guy who is currently doing our basement (I will have pics of that space once we're done and hopefully with a couple of DIY's to show in our upcoming Industrial Chic basement).  

It doesn't help that Brad and the kids aren't fond of cherry tomatoes (something to do with the 'nasty guts' inside).  So I have to resort to other options to use up my bounty and becoming the crazy lady who doles out cherry tomatoes to unsuspecting people walking down the street isn't high on my list.

In order not to waste any of these little beauties I decided to make a sauce with them.  Nothing brings out the flavour of cherry tomatoes like roasting.  Wow.  It sweetens them and takes them to a whole new gastronomical level of yum.  And, let's be frank, making them into a sauce is an easy way to keep that summer freshness going into the upcoming long winter months.  Enjoy!

3lbs cherry tomatoes - stems removed
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, lightly chopped
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp olive or grapeseed oil 
to taste - salt & pepper
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, stems removed
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, stems removed and coarsely chopped
1 tbsp brown sugar

Preheat oven to 400F.  Line a jelly roll pan (a cookie sheet with a 1-inch edge) with foil and lightly spray with oil.

In a large bowl combine tomatoes, garlic, rosemary, balsamic, oil, salt and pepper.  Toss until tomatoes are coated.  

Pour tomatoes onto prepared baking pan and move them around so they're in a single layer.

Roast tomatoes for 30-35 minutes or until the tomatoes start to bubble and some of the skins burst.  Remove from oven and allow it to cool for a few minutes.

When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle remove as many of the skins as you can. 

Note: I'm not sure if this is a must but I was afraid of wasting my precious tomatoes by having a sauce that was riddled with skins.  I didn't get all of the skins off but I also didn't notice any skins in the sauce so you could probably leave them on

Spoon tomatoes into your food processor.  Pour all juices from the baking pan into the hopper as well.  Add the fresh thyme and basil as well as the brown sugar to cut the acidity.  

On low and then high speed, mix until combined.  Serve immediately or allow the sauce to cool a little and pour into freezer Ziploc bags to use at a later time - like when the snow is falling and you desperately want something fresh tasting.

Source: The Baking Bookworm

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Mysterious Howling

Author: Maryrose Wood
Genre: Children's, Gothic, Mystery
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 267 
Series: #1 in the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place
Publisher: Harper Collins
First Published: 2010
First Line: "It was not Miss Penelope Lumley's first journey on a train, but it was the first one she had taken alone."

Book Description from GoodReadsFound running wild in the forest of Ashton Place, the Incorrigibles are no ordinary children: Alexander, age ten or thereabouts, keeps his siblings in line with gentle nips; Cassiopeia, perhaps four or five, has a bark that is (usually) worse than her bite; and Beowulf, age somewhere-in-the-middle, is alarmingly adept at chasing squirrels.

Luckily, Miss Penelope Lumley is no ordinary governess. Only fifteen years old and a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, Penelope embraces the challenge of her new position. Though she is eager to instruct the children in Latin verbs and the proper use of globes, first she must help them overcome their canine tendencies.

But mysteries abound at Ashton Place: Who are these three wild creatures, and how did they come to live in the vast forests of the estate? Why does Old Timothy, the coachman, lurk around every corner? Will Penelope be able to teach the Incorrigibles table manners and socially useful phrases in time for Lady Constance's holiday ball? And what on earth is a schottische?

My ReviewI will admit that I read this book for three reasons: 1) a library co-worker loved this series and recommended it to me, 2) it had the word 'incorrigible' in the series title (I love that word) and 3) the fact that the young governess was from the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females. What a delightfully quirky school name.

I'd tout this book 'gothic light for tweens' with a BIG focus on setting up numerous mysteries and letting the reader get to know the characters. The book is narrated by Penelope, the fifteen year old governess who is smart, quirky and felt like a Mary Poppins-type character eager to help these kids.  Unfortunately without the points of view of the three children the reader doesn't get to see much in the way of the personalities of the children themselves which was unfortunate because their take on things would have been quite amusing.  There is also a myriad of secondary characters which include the mysterious older caretaker, the mean stepmother, absentee father figure and the kindly housekeeper to round out the cast of quirky characters in this gothic tale.

Like I mentioned, the focus of this book is on the mysteries.  I admit that I struggled to stay interested in the plot in the middle but what kept me reading the book was the fact that I wanted answers to these mysteries.  Who are these kids and why were they left in the woods to be raised by wolves?  Who tried to sabbotage the Christmas party? Why does Lord Fredrick want to keep them around so badly yet doesn't spend any time with them? What/who is in the attic? Unfortunately hardly any of the mysteries are resolved in this first installment of the series.  I found this more than a little frustrating.  I love a good book series with some overlapping story lines but I also like to have some closure within each book with larger story arcs that bind the books together.  That said, several of the mysteries/loose ends were obvious to me but I was surprised that some of them weren't resolved for younger readers.  The 'to be continued' ending was meant, I think, to make the reader eager to find out more but the result, for me anyway, was a feeling of dissatisfaction.

The writing style had a very unique feel to it and for the most part I enjoyed it.  I think the age range the author was aiming for was between 8 and 10 year olds but there are a couple factors that make me feel that generally children in this age range may not be the best target audience.  First, the story is told from the point of view of the 15 year old governess, not the three children.  I think children would prefer a book with the three children as the focus to make the book more relatable.  Also, the vocabulary and some references felt like they'd go over the heads of 8 to 10 year olds.  The one reference that stands out in my mind is the fairly long and detailed reference to Longfellow's "The Wreck of the Hesperus" which i had never even read.

This is a book for children so some leniency is expected with regards to realism.  It is a work of fiction, after all. The target audience must be able to easily suspend reality in order to believe that a fifteen year old with no experience could teach three children who were raised by wolves to learn English, let alone Latin and be writing and reciting poetry, in the span of a few weeks. The adult in me had to remind myself of this fact a couple of times but I think younger audiences would go with the flow more easily.

Figuring out the era in which this story takes place proved to be somewhat difficult. At first I pegged the book to be set during the late 1800's but Wood would make statements within the narration like 'nowadays it would make a fine documentary for broadcast on a nature channel on cable television' which felt odd and out of place especially since it was Penelope who was narrating.  The first time it happened made me question what era this was written in which gave the writing a very disjointed feel.

The adult in me also hoped for a read with more meat on its bones.  This first book in the series instead focuses mostly on the relationship between the three children and their governess with the action happening much later in the story.  Overall, there isn't a whole lot going on in the book besides introducing the reader to the characters, a trip into town to shop and a Christmas party.  Just because its a book targeted at kids doesn't mean it can't have an awesome plot.  

This book sets up the series of books to follow and focuses on introducing its young readers to the characters and mysterious plots with some illustrations sprinkled throughout to help.  I'm sure that once some of the mysteries begin to be revealed things will pick up in this series. Other reviewers have touted this book as very Lemony Snicketty in tone and humour so readers who enjoyed that series may want to pick up this series.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Sisters of Versailles and Book Giveaway!

Author: Sally Christie
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Paperback
Series: #1 in the Mistresses of Versailles series
Pages: 432
Publisher: Atria Books
First Published: September 1, 2015 
First Line: "We were five sisters and four became mistresses of our King."

Book Description from GoodReadsA sumptuous and sensual tale of power, romance, family, and betrayal centered around four sisters and one King. Carefully researched and ornately detailed, The Sisters of Versailles is the first book in an exciting new historical fiction trilogy about King Louis XV, France's most "well-beloved" monarch, and the women who shared his heart and his bed.

Goodness, but sisters are a thing to fear.

Set against the lavish backdrop of the French Court in the early years of the 18th century, The Sisters of Versailles is the extraordinary tale of the five Nesle sisters: Louise, Pauline, Diane, Hortense, and Marie-Anne, four of whom became mistresses to King Louis XV. Their scandalous story is stranger than fiction but true in every shocking, amusing, and heartbreaking detail.

Court intriguers are beginning to sense that young King Louis XV, after seven years of marriage, is tiring of his Polish wife. The race is on to find a mistress for the royal bed as various factions put their best foot - and women - forward. The King's scheming ministers push Louise, the eldest of the aristocratic Nesle sisters, into the arms of the King. Over the following decade, the four sisters:sweet, naive Louise; ambitious Pauline; complacent Diane, and cunning Marie Anne, will conspire, betray, suffer, and triumph in a desperate fight for both love and power.

In the tradition of The Other Boleyn GirlThe Sisters of Versailles is a clever, intelligent, and absorbing novel that historical fiction fans will devour. Based on meticulous research on a group of women never before written about in English, Sally Christie's stunning debut is a complex exploration of power and sisterhood; of the admiration, competition, and even hatred that can coexist within a family when the stakes are high enough.

My Review: I'm a big reader of historical fiction but I have only read a handful of books set in France.  After reading the blurb about this book I was intrigued.  Set during the opulent reign of King Louis XV this book details how the king took four of the five Nesle sisters as his mistresses over the years.  Ooo la la.  Tell me more!

I enjoyed learning more about these five women and King Louis XV who I really didn't know anything about.  King Louis XV came off as a pretty malleable king.  He was sheltered and used to sycophants surrounding him his entire life but the man also knew what he wanted in his private life.  He was called 'Louis the Well-Beloved' -- ain't that the truth!  The man took on the majority of the Nesle sisters as mistresses while continuing to have children with his Queen.

It was also interesting to learn more about the fate of some women in the court at that time.  It was a little mind boggling to read some of the social rules that had to be adhered to in order to be a mistress.  How people looked the other way for certain things but condemned the mistresses for other infractions.   The decadence of the French court as well as their opinions of the poor was also shocking.  So naive and ignorant ... no wonder there was a French Revolution.  

The story is told via the multiple points of views of the sisters who had very different and unique personalities.  Each sister had a very distinctive voice which made it easy to keep track of who was who and letters back and forth between the sisters helped to propel the story and give it a more personal feel.  The sisters were vibrant but their personalities felt one-dimensional with pious Hortense, naive Louise, schemer-extraordinaire Pauline, self-centred Marie-Anne and dense Diane.  

The book overall was quite well written and researched but I also found it to be slow in parts.  The Sisters of Versailles is filled with the social scene at court, bedroom antics and the very tumultuous relationships that the five sisters had with each other as well as their King.  Some readers will enjoy that the focus of the book isn't on the political aspects of the time but on the personal relationships of the characters.  Personally I would have liked a bit more history in this historical fiction so I could learn more about France's history.

Overall, this was a good read.  I enjoyed learning more about these five women who were all but forgotten in history.  People who enjoy a lighter historical fiction read with more focus on characters' relationships will enjoy this book.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to TLC Book Tours and Atria Books for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Enter my Book Giveaway!!
Atria Books has generously provided me one copy of this The Sisters of Versailles to give away!  Just enter below!

Title: The Sisters of Versailles
Author: Sally Christie
Format: Paperback
Shipping to: Canada and USA only
Duration of Giveaway: September 16 to September 30, 2015
Random Drawing - winner will be contacted via email. I will forward your name and address on to the publisher.

* one entry per person *

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Her Final Breath

Author: Robert Dugoni
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Series: 2nd book in the Tracy Crosswhite series
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Thomas and Mercer
First Published: September 15, 2015
First Line: "Her tactical instructor at the police academy liked to taunt them during early morning drills."

Book Description from GoodReadsHomicide detective Tracy Crosswhite has returned to the police force after the sensational retrial of her sister’s killer. Still scarred from that ordeal, Tracy is pulled into an investigation that threatens to end her career, if not her life.

A serial killer known as the Cowboy is killing young women in cheap motels in North Seattle. Even after a stalker leaves a menacing message for Crosswhite, suggesting the killer or a copycat could be targeting her personally, she is charged with bringing the murderer to justice. With clues scarce and more victims dying, Tracy realizes the key to solving the murders may lie in a decade-old homicide investigation that others, including her captain, Johnny Nolasco, would prefer to keep buried. With the Cowboy on the hunt, can Tracy find the evidence to stop him, or will she become his next victim?

My Review:  After the whirlwind of reading Dugoni's first book in his Tracy Crosswhite series, My Sister's Grave a few weeks ago you can bet that I was more than eager to read Her Final Breath, the second book in the series which picks up where My Sister's Grave left off.

I enjoyed how Dugoni brought one of Tracy's previous cases that was mentioned in the first book to the forefront here.  As a reader it's great when books in a series are intertwined with story arcs and characters.  Once again Dugoni's attention to detail is evident as he weaves his stories which are a perfect mix of police procedural, suspense and mystery.  He gives his readers twists that kept me guessing and second guessing who I thought had 'dunnit'.  There were many suspects which makes for good red herrings but, I will admit, sometimes made it harder to figure out who was who among the characters.

While this was another great read by Dugoni but I didn't love it quite as much.  Dugoni had some mighty big literary shoes to fill since I adored My Sister's Grave (and gave it a very rare 5 stars). Unfortunately I didn't find myself as emotionally invested in Her Final Breath and it wasn't quite as riveting as My Sister's Grave which was non-stop suspense.  This time around there's still a lot of tension and twists abound but Dugoni lets the reader come up for air in between periods of suspense.

The reader gets to see another side of Tracy - as part of the Seattle Police Department's Violent Crime Squad.  Some characters from the first book make appearances and there are some new characters introduced as the reader is made privy to Tracy's professional life.  These include her partner, Kinsington Rowe (whom I hope makes more appearances in future books) and Tracy's notoriously nasty, ornery and back stabbing Captain Nolasco. Man, I love to hate that guy!

Tracy is once again a tenacious and strong main character who has her sights set on finding this killer and a stalker.  She's easy to root for and has enough turmoil in her life to be believable but not overdone.

Dan, Tracy's romantic interest, whom we met in the first book continues to be by Tracy's side.  While their relationship is sweet it sometimes feels like he's a little too good to be true and this time around he felt more superfluous because he didn't really add much to the suspense or plot.  I'd like to see more issues between them or something dark from Dan's past brought to the surface to spice things up.  These two have been through so much but it doesn't seem to have affected their relationship very much.

Note: While it's not necessary to read My Sister's Grave before taking on this book I highly recommend reading this series in order.  Dugoni does a good job filling in some of the blanks if the reader hasn't read the first book but reading the books in order will give the reader a much more well-rounded look at relationships and larger story arcs that spread between the books.

Once again Dugoni proves he has a knack for setting up his plot and slowly building suspense so that all of a sudden the reader finds that they cannot put the book down for any length of time.  This was an enjoyable read and a great addition to what is becoming a favourite suspense series of mine.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Thomas and Mercer and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Why Not Me?

Author: Mindy Kaling
Genre: Humour
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 240
Source: Random House Canada
Publisher: Crown Archetype (Random House)
First Published: September 15, 2015
First Line : "In the seventh grade I started a new school."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn Why Not Me?, Kaling shares her ongoing journey to find contentment and excitement in her adult life, whether it’s falling in love at work, seeking new friendships in lonely places, attempting to be the first person in history to lose weight without any behavior modification whatsoever, or most important, believing that you have a place in Hollywood when you’re constantly reminded that no one looks like you.

In “How to Look Spectacular: A Starlet’s Confessions,” Kaling gives her tongue-in-cheek secrets for surefire on-camera beauty, (“Your natural hair color may be appropriate for your skin tone, but this isn’t the land of appropriate–this is Hollywood, baby. Out here, a dark-skinned woman’s traditional hair color is honey blonde.”) “Player” tells the story of Kaling being seduced and dumped by a female friend in L.A. (“I had been replaced by a younger model. And now they had matching bangs.”) In “Unlikely Leading Lady,” she muses on America’s fixation with the weight of actresses, (“Most women we see onscreen are either so thin that they’re walking clavicles or so huge that their only scenes involve them breaking furniture.”) And in “Soup Snakes,” Kaling spills some secrets on her relationship with her ex-boyfriend and close friend, B.J. Novak (“I will freely admit: my relationship with B.J. Novak is weird as hell.”)

Mindy turns the anxieties, the glamour, and the celebrations of her second coming-of-age into a laugh-out-loud funny collection of essays that anyone who’s ever been at a turning point in their life or career can relate to. And those who’ve never been at a turning point can skip to the parts where she talks about meeting Bradley Cooper.

My Review: Mindy Kaling is back with her second book filled with her signature humour and down to earth personality that have so many people clamouring to know more about her.

When I requested to review this book I, of course, knew a bit about Mindy Kaling but I admit that I wasn't a die-hard fan.  I knew that she'd always come off as down-to-earth (I love it when celebrities feel like they're normal people) and she's a funny comedienne. Funny with a capital "F", y'all.  I also knew she was on the American version of The Office and has her own show, The Mindy Project which she produces, writes and stars in.  In the past I had watched episodes of her show but wouldn't have considered myself a Mindy Minion, so to speak.  But I'm definitely changing my tune now.

See, I love funny.  I'm Canadian so, generally speaking, we know funny. Good funny. We enjoy a good 'giggle in a public place while you're reading' kind of funny.  This is that kind of book.  In her second foray into the world of comedic self-deprecating literature, Mindy honestly shares her ups and downs, her heartaches and joy with her readers in a collection of short essays which include looks into her life in Hollywood, her search for a man, her friendships, sorority tales and even her beauty secrets.

Mindy has got the tongue in cheek humour down pat and is the kind of girl I'd love to hang out with.  I realize that she already has the role of Best Friend filled (darn it, Jocelyn!!) but I could totally see filling that role should Jocelyn not continue to fulfill all of the requirements.  Mindy comes across as normal gal living in the totally ca-razy world of Hollywood and she often has the kind of responses that I could see having (perhaps in a milder way) in the same situation.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading about Mindy's continuing coming of age story.  She's a funny lady with heart and has a good message that she gives readers -- you are entitled to have dreams.  It's great to have ambition!  Why shouldn't you follow your dreams?  If you work like hell you may just achieve them.  But the defining factor of Mindy is that she's funny and the masses of us normal folk can't help but like her.  And while I wouldn't say every chapter was mind-blowingly funny (she's not Canadian after all) I loved this light, make-me-snort-laugh kind of read and plan to watch more of The Mindy Project to increase my Mindy Minion status.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to Random House Canada and Crown Archetype for providing me with a complimentary hardcover copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Mistake I Made

Author: Paula Daly
Genre: Modern Fiction, Suspense
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 352
Source: Random House Canada
Publisher: Double Day Canada
First Published: September 15, 2015
First Line: "Bodies were my business."

Book Description from GoodReadsThe Mistake I Made is the latest page-turner from one of the England’s most captivating new thriller writers. In her provocative and riveting third novel, Paula Daly focuses her masterful eye for psychological suspense and family drama on an indecent proposal that has fatal repercussions. 

Single mother Roz has a reached breaking-point. After the dissolution of her marriage, Roz’s business has gone under, debts are racking up, the rent is late (again), and she's struggling to provide for her nine-year-old son, who is starting to misbehave in school. Roz is in trouble. Real trouble. 

When Roz returns home from work one day and finds an eviction notice, she knows that it’s time for action—she has two weeks to find a solution otherwise they will be kicked out of their home. Increasingly desperate, Roz doesn’t know where to turn. Then the perfect opportunity presents itself. At her sister’s fortieth birthday party, Roz meets Scott Elias—wealthy, powerful, and very married. But the impression Roz leaves on him is indelible. He tracks her down and makes Roz an offer to spend the night with him—for money. He wants no-strings-attached intimacy and can guarantee total discretion. Could it be as simple as it sounds? With that kind of cash, Roz could clear her debts and get her life back on track. But as the situation spirals out of her control, Roz is forced to do things she never thought herself capable of. Can she ever set things right again?

My Review: At the heart of the story is Roz, a single mother of nine year old, George who is more than struggling to make ends meet.  She has creditors at her door and no leg to stand on.  She's out of options until rich and charming Scott Elias enters her world and makes her an offer she really can't refuse.  

This book definitely had a very 'Indecent Proposal' feel to it but with more heart and humour.  Roz narrates the story of her downward financial spiral for the reader.  She was a realistic character and you can't help but root for her as she shows the reader her life - the good, the bad and the downright nerve-wracking - as she tries everything she can think of to keep her and her son off the street.

As the reader you feel for Roz as she struggles to make ends meet.  Some of her decisions (good and poor) helped to make her feel more like a realistic character but others you just shake your head at and wonder why she did that.  For example, being a constant doormat for her ex-husband who is an utter flake and yet Roz and his mother pander to him.  Gah!

That brings me to some of the secondary characters.  While Roz was compelling some of the other characters came off too cliched - the uppity sister, the dead beat ex-husband, the smooth millionaire.  But it was nine year old George who was a breath of fresh air.  You really felt for him and he struggled to come to terms with the changes in his life at home and at school.

This was a good read but it wasn't as gripping as I was hoping and came off as far more of a contemporary fiction read than a suspenseful thriller.  The suspenseful event in the book, while good, was too brief and the ensuing issues felt like they weren't dealt with in as much depth as I would expect.  

Overall this was a quick, enjoyable read set in the beauty of England's Lake District and readers who enjoy contemporary fiction with some moral dilemmas should enjoy this book. 

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Doubleday Canada and Random House Canada for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, September 11, 2015

House of Thieves

Author: Charles Belfoure
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: SourceBooks
First Published: September 15, 2015
First Line: "It was a perfect day to rob a bank."

Book Description from GoodReadsThe Debt Must Be Repaid — or Else
In 1886 New York, a respectable architect shouldn’t have any connection to the notorious gang of thieves and killers that rules the underbelly of the city. But when John Cross’s son racks up an unfathomable gambling debt to Kent’s Gents, Cross must pay it back himself. All he has to do is use his inside knowledge of high society mansions and museums to craft a robbery even the smartest detectives won’t solve. The take better include some cash too —the bigger the payout, the faster this will be over.
With a newfound talent for sniffing out vulnerable and lucrative targets, Cross becomes invaluable to the gang. But Cross’s entire life has become a balancing act, and it will only take one mistake for it all to come crashing down —and for his family to go down too.
My Review: The premise of an upper class professional suddenly forced to use his knowledge of New York City's elite to work with a crime boss in order to save his son was quite intriguing to me. Belfoure is an architect himself and like his first novel, The Paris Architect (2013), his protagonist in this novel is also an architect.

Belfoure's love of architecture is apparent throughout the book with the descriptions of architectural details of buildings during New York City's Gilded Age.  While they were sprinkled throughout the book they weren't overdone or took over the story and I quite enjoyed getting a view of a much younger New York City.  The reader is also given details about other aspects of life during that time: the Pinkertons, the debut of the Statue of Liberty, the rampant poverty in some areas as well as a look into the lives of New York's upper crust and how blatantly ignorant and bigoted they were to those less fortunate.

I'd have to say that I was surprised that this book was a much lighter historical fiction read than I was expecting.  It was much more in line with Josephine Cox's style of writing and not as captivating as I was hoping especially after reading and enjoying The Paris Architect at the beginning of this year. Don't get me wrong, I have enjoyed many of Cox's books over the years but I was expecting something more from Belfoure.  More history.  More energy, believable characters and a more realistic story line.

The realism is what bothered me the most with this book.  I just couldn't get behind the idea that so many people from this upper crust family suddenly, and independent of each other, decide to leave their comfortable (and yes stifling and restrictive) world to hang out with people much, much lower on the social scale.  We're talking about debutantes enjoying watching rat baiting and a rich kid eagerly learning the art of pick pocketing from a Fagin-type character.  I just couldn't get behind the changes in their characters.  There were too many double lives happening within one family to be believable and the ending was tied up too nicely.

Even though this wasn't my favourite Belfoure novel House of Thieves kept my interest and showed the lengths parents will go to protect their children and I liked it.  This would make a good beach read for fans of lighter historical fiction who enjoy period pieces set during 19th century America.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to SourceBooks and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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