Thursday, August 28, 2014

Book Tour Review: Dark Aemilia by Sally O'Reilly

Title: Dark Aemilia
Author: Sally O'Reilly
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 448 (hardcover edition)
Published: May 2014
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 4/5

A tale of sorcery and passion in seventeenth-century London — where witches haunt William Shakespeare and his Dark Lady, the playwright's muse and one true love.

The daughter of a Venetian musician, Aemilia Bassano came of age in Queen Elizabeth’s royal court. The Queen’s favorite, she develops a love of poetry and learning, maturing into a young woman known not only for her beauty but also her sharp mind and quick tongue. Aemilia becomes the mistress of Lord Hunsdon, but her position is precarious. Then she crosses paths with an impetuous playwright named William Shakespeare and begins an impassioned but ill-fated affair.

A decade later, the Queen is dead, and Aemilia Bassano is now Aemilia Lanyer, fallen from favor and married to a fool. Like the rest of London, she fears the plague. And when her young son Henry takes ill, Aemilia resolves to do anything to save him, even if it means seeking help from her estranged lover, Will—or worse, making a pact with the Devil himself.

In rich, vivid detail, Sally O’Reilly breathes life into England’s first female poet, a mysterious woman nearly forgotten by history. Full of passion and devilish schemes, Dark Aemilia is a tale worthy of the Bard.

Sally O'Reilly's Dark Aemilia is not going to be a novel for every historical fiction reader. Aemilia is understandably difficult to like despite her many talents and qualities, the storyline only halfway succeeds at being an effective attempt to blend history and the supernatural, and the present tense is always odd perspective for a historical novel. That said, the creativity of the author and the subject, and Aemilia herself really stood out to me over the course of Dark Aemilia. The writing is consistent, strong, and evocative and I found myself drawn to the sharp edges of Aemilia as well as for her stubbornness and way with words.

Aemilia and Will Shakespeare's intense relationship fuels a lot of the narrative, despite that relationship not being shown on the page for very long. Their chemistry is both believable and natural, and though they are more often apart than together (in both a physical and romantic sense) they provide the real emotion and drama for a lot of the novel. Aemilia is shown to be a good representation of real woman in that she has many feelings and failings and the O'Reilly lets her be unlikeable sometimes. So too is Will flawed, which makes him all the more defined as a character.

The fantastical elements, though slight enough for first 200ish pages, become more prevalent after, and are often overwhelming and only distract from the more interesting real-world (and believable) events that also take place in Aemilia's life. The "deal" mentioned in the blurb is one particular time I felt the story became unpolished and that episode unnecessary. On the other hand, the inclusion of the plague added additional suspense and tension to the larger story and also gave Aemilia more agency and motivation during a less intense time in her life.

I enjoyed a lot of smaller things in the book (that it's broken into scene and acts rather than chapters, Aemilia's many great one-liners, several side characters, Aemilia's proto-feminism and independence) and thought the overall picture strong and distinctive. Sally O'Reilly has convincingly created some memorable versions of popular historical figures and Dark Aemilia is a compelling read for it. It's a rich story, full of romance, pride, great rivals, and great works. Aemilia Bassano was an impressive woman, first as England's first published woman and also as inspiration for William Shakespeare, and Sally O'Reilly does her justice here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Book Tour Review: The Agincourt Bride by Joanna Hickson

Title: The Agincourt Bride
Author: Joanna Hickson
Genre: historical fiction
Series: Catherine de Valois #1
Pages: 578
Published: January 2013
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
Rating: 3/5

The epic story of the queen who founded the Tudor dynasty, told through the eyes of her loyal nursemaid. Perfect for fans of Philipa Gregory.

When her own first child is tragically still-born, the young Mette is pressed into service as a wet-nurse at the court of the mad king, Charles VI of France. Her young charge is the princess, Catherine de Valois, caught up in the turbulence and chaos of life at court.

Mette and the child forge a bond, one that transcends Mette’s lowly position.
But as Catherine approaches womanhood, her unique position seals her fate as a pawn between two powerful dynasties. Her brother, The Dauphin and the dark and sinister, Duke of Burgundy will both use Catherine to further the cause of France.

Catherine is powerless to stop them, but with the French defeat at the Battle of Agincourt, the tables turn and suddenly her currency has never been higher. But can Mette protect Catherine from forces at court who seek to harm her or will her loyalty to Catherine place her in even greater danger?

Historical fiction author Joanna Hickson kicks off her Catherine de Valois series with the hefty The Agincourt Bride -- a story that revolves around Princess Catherine but is not narrated or written from her perspective. Instead a commoner/wetnurse named Guillaumette ("Mette") serves as the book's main protagonist and narrator for the nearly 600-page duration. Her devotion to her mistress is apparent early on and Mette ably guides the story through years of Catherine's tumultuous life in the 14th century court of France.

The unknown narrator allowed for a fresh approach to a royal story; though Catherine is not written about as much as her genre counterparts (like the Tudors/Plantagenets), her story is recognizable but still original. The author has all the facts and details covered, woven into the narration. One thing about The Agincourt Bride is that it is obvious how much time and research went into crafting and recreating the world and time Mette and Catherine would have lived in. That devotion to description can make certain sections and times covered feel bland in comparison or more dry.... and the book can feel very long.

While Mette herself comes across the page as a real, viable person, Catherine can seem remote, or too idealized by her nurse and our narrator. Even on the few occasions when Catherine acts out of sorts or rudely, it's either immediately dismissed or glossed over by Mette's narration. Her single-minded view makes Catherine more a caricature of a famous historical person rather than a fully-fledged and imagined version of her. I liked that Catherine was smart, capable, and determined, but the ability to see her from more than one viewpoint would have enhanced the overall story and impact.

The first in a series, The Agincourt Bride is an excellent place to launch the introduction of such a compelling story. There's more than enough foundation and detail to support the final two books, and Hickson ends her novel on a great hook. Catherine de Valois was a fascinating woman and I am curious to see how this author continues to interpret the rest of Catherine's complicated and fascinating life story.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

Title: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place
Author: Julie Berry
Genre: mystery, middle grade
Series: None
Pages: 368
Published: Expected September 23, 2014
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 4 out of 5

There's a murderer on the loose—but that doesn't stop the girls of St. Etheldreda's from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce.

The students of St. Etheldreda's School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home—unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong.

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is a smart, hilarious Victorian romp, full of outrageous plot twists, mistaken identities, and mysterious happenings

Reviewed by Danielle

*doorbell rings* Oh, who ever it is, they gotta go away or they'll be killed.

Victorian murder mysteries and drawing room farces are genres that have faded away, but if they were all written with the wit of The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, let's hope for a come back.

There's been a murder at St. Etheldreda's School for Girls and each of the seven students, defined by the poor home life that lead her to the institute, is determined to cover it up lest they be returned to the family that calls them Dull, Pocked, or Disgraceful. 

The characters are intentionally one dimensional, with the exception of the girl who emerges as the main character who does undergo a surprising, (and forced,) amount of growth. I thought their adjectives and character traits lent the book most of its humor, though some of the characters, like the dumb one and the slutty one, ran thin by the end. 

Still, the girls band together to solve a whole host of mysteries, starting with who killed poor Mrs. Plackett and moving down to jeweled elephants, missing wills, and falsified ledgers. This isn't one of those books where the question is whodunit, but instead, who didn't? Everyone has motive, from the reverend to the neighbor. (Fortunately there's no butler to have done it.) It's twisty, impossible to pin down, and full of red herrings, but when the mysteries all come out in the inevitable drawing room scene, the clues were all there. It's satisfying, though a few red herrings leave dangling plot threads.

The biggest problem with the novel is the size of the cast. With seven main characters, the deceased, a bevy of suspects, nosy neighbors, and constables, having six love interests felt like major overkill. They do all move along the plot in some way, so I can't point at one and say, "that's the superfluous one! Take him out!," but I wish they could have been pared down somehow.

I found The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place to be a exceptionally fun mystery with an old soul. It sacrifices character building for mystery building and suffers from some expendable threads, but if you liked Clue or want a feminist Sherlock Holmes, it's easy enough to sit back and enjoy the ride for what it is.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Book Blast: The Typewriter Girl by Alison Atlee

About The Typewriter Girl

Audible Audio Book Edition Release Date: April 4, 2014
Listening Length: 12 hours and 39 minutes
Publisher: Audible Studios
Language: English
Genre: Historical Fiction

Pub­lish­ers Weekly Best Books of the Year pick: The Type­writer Girl is a “spec­tac­u­lar debut, set in a per­fectly real­ized Vic­to­rian England.”
When Bet­sey Dob­son dis­em­barks from the Lon­don train in the sea­side resort of Idensea, all she owns is a small valise and a canary in a cage. After an attempt to forge a let­ter of ref­er­ence she knew would be denied her, Bet­sey has been fired from the typ­ing pool of her pre­vi­ous employer. Her vig­or­ous protest left one man wounded, another jilted, and her char­ac­ter per­ma­nently besmirched.
Now, with­out money or a ref­er­ence for a new job, the future looks even bleaker than the deba­cle she left behind her.
But her life is about to change … because a young Welsh­man on the rail­road quay, wait­ing for another woman, is the one finally will­ing to believe in her.
Mr. Jones is inept in mat­ters of love, but a genius at things mechan­i­cal. In Idensea, he has con­structed a glit­ter­ing pier that astounds the wealthy tourists. And in Bet­sey, he rec­og­nizes the ideal tour man­ager for the Idensea Pier & Plea­sure Build­ing Company.
After a life­time of guard­ing her secrets and break­ing the rules, Bet­sey becomes a force to be reck­oned with. Together, she and Mr. Jones must find a way for her to suc­ceed in a soci­ety that would reject her, and fig­ure the price of sur­ren­der­ing to the tides of love.

Praise for The Typewriter Girl

“Atlee’s out¬standing debut unflinchingly explores … the unforgiving man’s world of Victorian England.” –PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (starred review)
“Easily one of the most romantic books I’ll read all year … John and Betsey are compelling and worth rooting for.” –DEAR AUTHOR (a Recommended Read)
“Sweeps readers to a satisfying conclusion.” –LIBRARY JOURNAL

Buy the AudioBook

Amazon UK
Amazon US

About the Author

Alison Atlee spent her childhood re-enacting Little Women and trying to fashion nineteenth century wardrobes for her Barbie dolls. Happily, these activities turned out to be good preparation for writing historical novels. She now lives in Kentucky.

For more information please visit Alison Atlee’s website
You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads and Pinterest.

The Typewriter Girl Blog Tour & Book Blast Schedule

Monday, August 4
Review at Peeking Between the Pages (Audio Book)
Book Blast at Mina’s Bookshelf
Book Blast at Princess of Eboli
Book Blast at Literary Chanteuse

Tuesday, August 5
Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews (Print)
Book Blast at So Many Books, So Little Time

Wednesday, August 6
Book Blast at Let Them Read Books

Thursday, August 7
Book Blast at Mari Reads
Book Blast at Book Lovers Paradise

Friday, August 8
Book Blast at Book Blast Central

Saturday, August 9
Book Blast at Caroline Wilson Writes

Sunday, August 10
Book Blast at Book Nerd

Monday, August 11
Review at Just One More Chapter (Audio Book)
Book Blast at Gobs and Gobs of Books

Tuesday, August 12
Book Blast at Queen of All She Reads

Wednesday, August 13
Review at Historical Tapestry (Audio Book)
Book Blast at The Lit Bitch
Book Blast at CelticLady’s Reviews

Thursday, August 14
Review at A Bookish Affair (Print)
Guest Post at Historical Tapestry

Friday, August 15
Review at Brooke Blogs (Audio Book)
Guest Post at A Bookish Affair

Saturday, August 16
Book Blast at Broken Teepee

Sunday, August 17
Interview at Closed the Cover

Monday, August 18
Review at The Maiden’s Court (Audio Book)

Tuesday, August 19
Book Blast at Layered Pages
Book Blast at Always with a Book

Wednesday, August 20
Book Blast at Literary, Etc.

Thursday, August 21
Review at Books in the Burbs (Print)
Book Blast at Bibliotica
Friday, August 22
Review at Bibliophilia, Please (Audio Book)

Saturday, August 23
Book Blast at Reading Lark
Book Blast at Ageless Pages Reviews

Sunday, August 24
Book Blast at Passages to the Past

Monday, August 25
Review at Flashlight Commentary (Audio Book)
Book Blast at Historical Fiction Connection

Tuesday, August 26
Interview at Flashlight Commentary

Wednesday, August 27
Book Blast at Susan Heim on Writing

Thursday, August 28
Review at Luxury Reading (Print)
Review at The True Book Addict (Audio Book)
Review at Jorie Loves a Story (Print)

Friday, August 29
Interview at Jorie Loves a Story

The Typewriter Girl Swag Giveaway

One copy of The Typewriter Girl (Audio Book or Print) Set of earbuds in a cute typewriter print pouch A Typewriter Girl Happily-Ever-After t-shirt (features last lines from famous novels) A vintage style postcard "from" Idensea, the setting of The Typewriter Girl A "dream wildly" ribbon bookmark with typewriter key charms

To enter, please complete the Rafflecopter giveaway form below. Giveaway is open to residents in the US, Canada, and the UK.
Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on August 29th. You must be 18 or older to enter. Winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter on August 30th and notified via email. Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Review: The Swift Boys and Me by Kody Keplinger

Title: The Swift Boys & Me
Author: Kody Keplinger
Genre: contemporary, middle grade
Series: N/A
Pages: 272
Source: Book Expo America in consideration for a review
Rating: 4/5

Nola Sutton has been best friends and neighbors with the Swift boys for practically her whole life. There’s the youngest, Kevin, who never stops talking; the oldest, Brian, who’s always kind and calm; and then there’s Canaan, the ringleader and Nola’s best-best friend. Nola can’t imagine her life without the Swift boys — they’ll always be like this, always be friends.

But then everything changes overnight.

When the Swifts’ daddy leaves without even saying good-bye, it completely destroys the boys, and all Nola can do is watch. Kevin stops talking and Brian is never around. Even Canaan is drifting away from Nola — hanging out with the neighborhood bullies instead of her.

Nola just wants things to go back to the way they were — the way they’ve always been. She tries to pull the boys back to her, only the harder she pulls, the further away they seem. But it’s not just the Swifts whose family is changing, so is Nola’s, and she needs her best friends now more than ever. Can Nola and the Swift boys survive this summer with their friendships intact, or has everything fallen apart for good?

Nola’s struggle to save her friends, her unwavering hope, and her belief in the power of friendship make Kody Keplinger’s middle-grade debut a poignant story of loss and redemption.

First things first, thanks to the awesome Debby from Snuggly Oranges for graciously giving her won copy of this to me at the Kids/Author Carnival.

I wasn't expecting to care as much about Nola, Canaan, and all the other Swift Boys as much as I did. For someone who has never read anything by this author (don't hate me!), this was a wonderful, apt introduction to her writing. I have heard fans lament that an author so beloved in YA turned to MG for her next project, but I am grateful and eager for more -- in any genre/age range --  from the talent that is Kody Keplinger.

My sister is an elementary school teacher. A lot of her students are affected by situations like Nola's, or the Swift Boys. Seeing these less-than-rosy-eyed version of preteen life is worthwhile and worth reading, especially for kids looking to see themselves reflected in fiction. Nola goes through some tough times in this book, no doubt. Her experiences may not be universal, but they are common. If you can't see yourself in her, chances are you will recognize her in someone you know. Her struggles with friendship and family are portrayed so well, so realistically --  I defy you not to feel something during this 272-page read. Just because these characters are young doesn't mean their stories should be trivialized, and Keplinger knows it.

Unlike some MG, all the characters in the novel have some sort of depth or personal history/motivation. The preteens, the teens, the adults -- all are more than staid stereotypes. Nola's mom is more than just a mother -- she's a realized woman with a life and needs of her own. And Keplinger isn't afraid to leave some ends open, or hurts unresolved. The Swift boys may never understand why their father left and that's okay (well not okay, but in the context of storytelling). Not everything has a happy, fully resolved ending. The realism prevalent through the novel is one of its biggest selling points for me as a reader. Life is hard, and though her leads are young, Keplinger keeps her story based in the plausible.

This was my first Keplinger, but it won't be my last. She has an obvious agility for characterization, writing, and storytelling. The Swift Boys & Me was a wonderful introduction to an author who writes with clarity, authority, and emotion. Consider me a fan.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Review: Frostborn by Lou Anders

Title: Frostborn
Author: Lou Anders
Genre: fantasy, middle grade
Series: Thrones and Bones #1
Pages: 352
Source: I received this book at Book Expo America in consideration for review
Rating: 3/5

Meet Karn. He is destined to take over the family farm in Norrøngard. His only problem? He’d rather be playing the board game Thrones and Bones.

Enter Thianna. Half human, half frost giantess. She’s too tall to blend in with other humans but too short to be taken seriously as a giant.

When family intrigues force Karn and Thianna to flee into the wilderness, they have to keep their sense of humor and their wits about them. But survival can be challenging when you’re being chased by a 1,500-year-old dragon, Helltoppr the undead warrior and his undead minions, an evil uncle, wyverns, and an assortment of trolls and giants.

Frostborn, the first in a new series by veteran of the publishing world Lou Anders, was an unexpected and happy surprise. It hadn't been on my radar until a friend (who knows my obsession with dragons) saw it at BEA and grabbed me a copy. I am forever thankful to Lyn for that because without her kindness, I would have missed a fantastical, fun adventure with two memorable and well-drawn middle grade protagonists. The slower start, the worldbuilding, and the engaging  characters all added up to an entertaining read.

I am a sucker for anything fantasy, especially one with dragons, but Anders has a lot to offer here. The worldbuilding is somewhat slighter and less substantial than I would have liked to see but more than enough to frame the world that Karn and Thianna live in. The countries, empires, and cultures they each inhabit or experience are original, but also have obvious callbacks to real-world history. The inspiration for this world further serves to help envision both the lives of the two main characters.

Karn is a more than adequate character for several reasons, but it is Thianna that stole the show for me. A child of mixed heritage and ostracized because of that fact, it's easy to connect her character arc to reality. Her struggles for acceptance and happiness are real, and easily felt through her anger, bitterness, and her humanity. But for all that, Thianna is a rounded girl. She is smart, kind, and able to not only defend herself, but save others. Give me more middle grade girls like this, please. Her coming of age story is just as pivotal as that of the male character and it is so so refreshing to read.

While I didn't love this the way I do my middle grade favorites, I found myself enjoying my time spent with these characters. The beginning suffers from a slower pace, but things rapidly become more and more actiontastic as the story goes on. It's more than worth a few chapters and patience. It's a lighthearted kids' adventure, but Anders strikes a good balance between tension, humor, and characterization.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Review: No One Needs to Know by Amanda Grace

Title: No One Needs to Know
Author: Amanda Grace
Genre: contemporary, lgbt
Series: None
Pages: 240
Published: Expected September 8, 2014
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Sometimes, the cost of love is too steep

Olivia's twin brother, Liam, has been her best friend her whole life. But when he starts dating, Olivia is left feeling alone, so she tries to drive away Liam's girlfriends in an effort to get her best friend back.

But she meets her match in Zoey, Liam's latest fling. A call-it-like-she-sees-it kind of girl, Zoey sees right through Olivia's tricks. What starts as verbal sparring between the two changes into something different, however, as they share their deepest insecurities and learn they have a lot in common. Olivia falls for Zoey, believing her brother could never get serious with her. But when Liam confesses that he's in love with Zoey, Olivia has to decide who deserves happiness more: her brother or herself?

Reviewed by Danielle

You can pry the ship of Olivia and Zoey out of my cold dead hands. I am so unbelievably in love with them as a couple and I’m desperately invested in their relationship.

And to think I almost missed out on this book entirely because the cover and title imply it’s about cheating.

The blurb does this book a huge disservice, so allow me a minor spoiler. Liam is not in love with Zoey. He never says he’s in love with Zoey. (He says the opposite.) They’re casual. Liam starts liking her more than she likes him, but that is absolutely not the same thing. Around the three quarter mark, the relationships start to feel kind of cheater-y, which is what causes the climax, but I don’t feel like this is a “cheating” book. Your mileage may vary.

Liam is really a non-factor in most of the book, though. Zoey’s POVs almost never features him, thoughts of him, anything. Instead, it’s all about the slow build from hate to friendship to love between Olivia and Zoey. It’s so natural and sweet; it’s probably one of the best examples of a relationship in YA/NA. If I had one quibble, it’s that Zoey never gave gifts or planned the dates. I understand Olivia has more money and time, but I just wish I’d felt a little more give and take. Still, I’m never going to get over the graffiti date. The idea of a love interest taking the time to plan a perfect day for their partner, institute it, and use it to show their affection? Beautiful.

I did find one thing extremely weird. Zoey has a little sister who she’s extremely close to. She comes along on trips out with both Olivia and Liam, but at the climax, she has no idea who Liam is. (She didn’t talk to them on the ferry, but she had her face pressed to the glass and definitely saw them together, but didn’t recognize him at all when he arrived at the house. Huh?) I feel like a scene must have been added and not edited in properly. I hope that’s corrected before release. OH NO, LOOKS LIKE I MUST BUY A COPY TO CHECK. IT IS A TRAGEDY.

Their home lives are a little melodramatic and feature some subplots I could take or leave. The maybe-cheating didn’t make me feel good, though teenagers aren’t known for their complex romantic morals. It doesn’t matter. This is a book that features a f/f relationship with no homophobia or consequences of being gay. Do you understand how rare that is? If I'd been able to see a happy, healthy homo relationship when I was a teen, instead of sad issue books where being gay is the only thing in a person's life, it would have saved me a lot of pain and tears in my own life. So allow me to quote Olivia,

“It was perfect.

The whole [book] was perfect.”
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