Sunday, November 29, 2015

Review: Medicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot

Title: Médicis Daughter
Author: Sophie Perinot
Genre: historical fiction
Series: n/a
Pages: 384
Published: expected December 1 2015
Source: received for review
Rating: 4/5

Winter, 1564. Beautiful young Princess Margot is summoned to the court of France, where nothing is what it seems and a wrong word can lead to ruin. Known across Europe as Madame la Serpente, Margot’s intimidating mother, Queen Catherine de Médicis, is a powerful force in a country devastated by religious war. Among the crafty nobility of the royal court, Margot learns the intriguing and unspoken rules she must live by to please her poisonous family.

Eager to be an obedient daughter, Margot accepts her role as a marriage pawn, even as she is charmed by the powerful, charismatic Duc de Guise. Though Margot's heart belongs to Guise, her hand will be offered to Henri of Navarre, a Huguenot leader and a notorious heretic looking to seal a tenuous truce. But the promised peace is a mirage: her mother's schemes are endless, and her brothers plot vengeance in the streets of Paris. When Margot's wedding devolves into the bloodshed of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, she will be forced to choose between her family and her soul.

Médicis Daughter is historical fiction at its finest, weaving a unique coming-of-age story and a forbidden love with one of the most dramatic and violent events in French history.

There's a reason French historical fiction is hard to resist. It's full of such fascinating people, along with pivotal tumultuous times, notorious religious turmoil, and decadently sumptuous courts and courtiers. Sophie Perinot has successfully visited historical France before with her 2012 debut novel The Sister Queens, but this second visit is set during the ancien régime - middle 1500s -  with the infamous Catherine de Médicis and her headstrong and should-be-as-infamous daughter Margot. The House of Valois is known for many things (and its many kings) but this nuanced and creative story exploring the relationship between these two determined women gives new insight into the famous but fractious royal family. 

Catherine de Médicis makes for an easy historical villain, but Perinot takes care to craft her Italian-born French Queen into a three dimensional character for her readers. Catherine is not a particularly nice woman, and her struggles with Margot easily side the reader with the latter, but she is ably characterized under Perinot's pen. The novel centers around  and concerns itself with Marguerite far more than her mother; from her coming out until a week after the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, it is the story of France told through her princesse and later queen. 

Margot's life is one that more than warrants exploration and retelling -- without France's Salic Law barring her from politics, she might have been remembered in the same way as Elizabeth I of England. Even with France's skewed gender roles limiting her choices, she was a woman who demanded more from her time, despite the toll it took on her personal happiness while her mother was alive. Her struggle with society, with her mother, with her kingly brothers, are both accurate when known and plausible when the author has to invent to guess at events unknown. Dumas's La Reine Margot may have been the first novel to immortalize this indomitable French Queen, but the version of the queen in Médicis Daughter is the most realistic and believable I've yet come across.

Sophie Perinot has a gift for recreating even well-known eras of history with fresh eyes. Though I've known Margot's life trajectory for years and have even read other fictional books about her mother recently, reading Médicis Daughter was full of new views of events and people I was familiar with. It made me again curious about the French Wars of Religion and then the Guise family - ambitious, powerful, smart. I love when books capture the feel of their inspiration so clearly, as Perinot does here. Her knowledge of the time and place are evident and it helps to make this novel such a well-rendered version of sixteenth century France.


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Late November Books

I haven't had too many new acquisitions to the library but the ones I did get were so awesome I couldn't resist a final book haul for the month of November.


From the lovely Bekka of Pretty Deadly Reviews.....

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente!!

and if that wasn't enough....

it's signed to me!! I love Valente's work and this sounds like her particular brand of wit and weird.  A thousand thank yous to the lovely Bekka for doing this for me!

Sent for review:

A Year of Ravens by various authors! Boudicca is such a fascinating historical figure -- and the format of this author is also different. I'm excited because a lot of these authors are already favorites.


Because WINTER IS HERE after TWO YEARS and I read it in two days and all it took was all my emotional fortitude and feelings.

For Kindle:

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Everyone loves this, it was $1.99, it sounds amazing and now I already want Oreos. You're a witch, Becky Albertalli.

Any new releases you're going to buy in the next week? I know Sophie Perinot's Medicis Daughter and Stephanie Thornton's The Conqueror's Wife both are out on the first and you should all go out and buy both.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Book Tour Review: The Conqueror's Wife by Stephanie Thornton

Title: The Conqueror's Wife 
Author: Stephanie Thornton
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 512
Published: expected December 1 2-15
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 5/5

A novel from the acclaimed author of The Tiger Queens, for readers looking for “strong and determined female protagonists” (Historical Novel Society) and “a sprawling historical saga” (Renee Rosen)...

We are the women who loved Alexander the Great.  We were lovers and murderers, innocents and soldiers.
And without us, Alexander would have been only a man.
Instead he was a god.

330s, B.C.E., Greece: Alexander, a handsome young warrior of Macedon, begins his quest to conquer the ancient world. But he cannot ascend to power, and keep it, without the women who help to shape his destiny.

His spirited younger half-sister, Thessalonike, yearns to join her brother and see the world. Instead, it is Alexander's boyhood companion who rides with him into war while Thessalonike remains behind. Far away, crafty princess Drypetis will not stand idly by as Alexander topples her father from Persia's throne. And after Alexander conquers her tiny kingdom, Roxana, the beautiful and cunning daughter of a minor noble, wins Alexander’s heart…and will commit any crime to secure her place at his side.

Within a few short years, Alexander controls an empire more vast than the civilized world has ever known. But his victories are tarnished by losses on the battlefield and treachery among his inner circle. And long after Alexander is gone, the women who are his champions, wives, and enemies will fight to claim his legacy…

There is a plethora of historical fiction to be found in the world but Stephanie Thornton is one of the best authors working in the genre, by far. Her work is consistently and undeniably well-crafted; from the evident amounts of research that show in details both small and large, to the well-rounded and oft-forgotten female characters she centers her stories around. She takes care to retell stories of historical women that have been forgotten, twisted, or purposely hidden. So far to date she's ably covered Byzantine Empresses, Mongolian warrioresses, a female Pharaoh, and now the women (plus Hephaestion) of Alexander the Great. The Conqueror's Wife is another finely tuned and well-wrought addition to this fantastic (and personal favorite) author's growing bibliography.

There's a reason I countdown and anticipate every novel Thornton releases. Four novels in three years and she has yet to disappoint. She is an author that specializes in finding fascinating eras of history and then explores them from new eyes and different views than used before. Alexander's life has been retold by many voices and many authors but with using POV's from his sister, his wife, his soulmate, and his enemy-turned-reluctant-companion, Thornton covers the far-reaching conqueror's life with fresh perspectives. He's a man so famous we call him "the Great" without really thinking about all that accomplished -- and how quickly he did so. Though Alexander was no slouch, Thornton shows how the women in his life -- from his power hungry and ruthless mother Olympias to his warrior sisters Thessalonike and Cynnane and so on -- shaped, molded, and helped him achieve him all that earned him his appendage of "the Great."

The Conqueror's Wife is a longer book, but like the other Thornton novels I've read, loved, and recommend, it still doesn't feel long enough time spent with these characters. Five hundred pages have never gone so fast as they did here in Alexander's wide and rapidly-expanding world. As a history nerd with the implied a lifelong passion for exploring my favorite people, cultures, and empires, this was a book that felt fully immersive. Filled with a mostly female cast  based on real historical people from that time, it's these characters more than Alexander that come to life. Hephaestion is the sole male narrator and provides a good complement to the women that lend their voices telling the story at the heart of the novel. Each voice shines and though some may be similar in character (Olympias and Roxana, Thessalonike and Drypetis), each voice and personality is distinguishable and uniquely and identifiable their own. 

Another thing I continually like about Thornton is that while she largely stays true to historical record or generally agreed upon theories, she isn't afraid to find new motivations, reasons, or ideas for her characters' actions. Take Cassander in The Conqueror's Women. In historical record and theory, he's often shown to be  a villain in the upheaval after Alexander's death. Instead of following the expected route with his character, Thornton explores a different idea of what would motivate the man and how he would act. It worked for the story and for how the fallout after Alexander actually happened. The best historical fiction writers know what history was like and still manage to tell a story all their own. Stephanie Thornton is a great example of that kind of writer. 

If you are a fan of Kate Quinn or Sophie Perinot, I can't imagine a better new find for you than Stephanie Thornton. Without being anachronistic she writes women from history that are feminist and not limited in their lives by society's expectations. Her novels are well researched, full of place as character, and immersive. Thornton ably distills complicated times and consolidates a large cast of hist figures into a streamlined narrative.

04_The Conqueror's Wife_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL


Monday, November 23
Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages

Tuesday, November 24
Review at Layered Pages
Interview & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Spotlight & Excerpt at What Is That Book About

Wednesday, November 25
Review at A Bookish Affair
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews

Thursday, November 26
Review at Historical Readings & Reviews

Friday, November 27
Spotlight & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More

Monday, November 30
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Review & Giveaway at 100 Pages a Day

Tuesday, December 1
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Guest Post at Book Lovers Paradise

Wednesday, December 2
Review at
Review & Giveaway at A Literary Vacation

Thursday, December 3
Review, Excerpt, & Giveaway at Just One More Chapter
Review, Excerpt, & Giveaway at Unshelfish
Excerpt at A Literary Vacation
Spotlight at The Reading Queen

Friday, December 4
Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict

Monday, December 7
Review at The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, December 8
Review at Reading the Past
Review at Let Them Read Books

Wednesday, December 9
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews

Thursday, December 10
Review at The Lit Bitch
Interview & Giveaway at Reading Lark
Guest Post at Historical Fiction Connection

Friday, December 11
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Saturday, December 12
Review & Giveaway at Genre Queen

Monday, December 14
Review at Book Babe
Reivew, Excerpt, & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick

Tuesday, December 15
Review at Bookramblings

Wednesday, December 16
Review at Book Nerd

Thursday, December 17
Review at Flashlight Commentary

Friday, December 18
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective
Interview at Flashlight Commentary

Monday, November 23, 2015

Recent DNFs

It's been a while since I've posted one of these. These are a few recentish books that just did not work for me -- I tried each one for at least thirty percent.  

This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee

In 1818 Geneva, men built with clockwork parts live hidden away from society, cared for only by illegal mechanics called Shadow Boys. Two years ago, Shadow Boy Alasdair Finch’s life shattered to bits.

His brother, Oliver—dead.

His sweetheart, Mary—gone.

His chance to break free of Geneva—lost.

Heart-broken and desperate, Alasdair does the unthinkable: He brings Oliver back from the dead.

But putting back together a broken life is more difficult than mending bones and adding clockwork pieces. Oliver returns more monster than man, and Alasdair’s horror further damages the already troubled relationship.

Then comes the publication of Frankenstein and the city intensifies its search for Shadow Boys, aiming to discover the real life doctor and his monster. Alasdair finds refuge with his idol, the brilliant Dr. Geisler, who may offer him a way to escape the dangerous present and his guilt-ridden past, but at a horrible price only Oliver can pay…

I liked the beginning of this one quite a bit. I actually got a bit farther in this ARC than any of the others -- almost 60% --  but I just found my interest waning the longer (and longer....) the story went on. Alisdair is an interesting guy, the concept of the Shadow Boys, etc. are creative but I don't care about Mary or Oliver and the Frankenstein angle wasn't a highpoint for me.  It also just feels too long; the 230ish pages I read felt much longer and with over 140 left, I couldn't muster the interest or desire to finish the story.

I read enough of this to feel comfortable ratingt This Monstrous Thing three stars on Goodreads because the prose is strong and Lee is a clever writer. This is by no means a DNF because it's a bad novel -- it's not the kind of novel that I enjoy reading. It took me four days to get less than 2/3rds of the novel read and then I knew to throw in the towel. I will however, keep a look out for whatever Lee writes next.

Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

 From the author of The Beginning of Everything: two teens with a deadly disease fall in love on the brink of a cure.

At seventeen, overachieving Lane finds himself at Latham House, a sanatorium for teens suffering from an incurable strain of tuberculosis. Part hospital and part boarding school, Latham is a place of endless rules and confusing rituals, where it's easier to fail breakfast than it is to flunk French.

There, Lane encounters a girl he knew years ago. Instead of the shy loner he remembers, Sadie has transformed. At Latham, she is sarcastic, fearless, and utterly compelling. Her friends, a group of eccentric troublemakers, fascinate Lane, who has never stepped out of bounds his whole life. And as he gradually becomes one of them, Sadie shows him their secrets: how to steal internet, how to sneak into town, and how to disable the med sensors they must wear at all times.

But there are consequences to having secrets, particularly at Latham House. And as Lane and Sadie begin to fall in love and their group begins to fall sicker, their insular world threatens to come crashing down.

Told in alternating points of view, Extraordinary Means is a darkly funny story about doomed friendships, first love, and the rare miracle of second chances.

I think I have to quit Robyn Schneider. And forgive me, but I am sick to death of illness contemporary books. So. Done. I had tried this because while Scheneider's first book wasn't a total success for me, it was different and creative. However, this novel is not. I found promise in the early parts of the book but the characters weren't engaging or defined enough for me. It's only 336 pages long but I grew tired of reading about Lane and Sadie and Lane + Sadie around 30% in. 

I think I want to like this author's books more than I do. They try too hard and sound unlike real teens; I can't buy into more than the premise or the tropes behind the characters. Just not a novel or a type of contemporary novel for me. 

 Sugar Skulls by Lisa Mantchev and Glenn Dallas

Welcome to Cyrene, a city where energy is currency and music is the lifeblood of its young citizens. Everyone lives on the grid, and the residents of the world’s largest playground are encouraged to pursue every physical and emotional pleasure imaginable.

Vee is the lead singer of the Sugar Skulls, an all-girl band that is Corporate’s newest pet project. Micah haunts the city like a ghost after an overdose of a deadly illegal street drug knocks him off the grid. When Micah and Vee forge an immediate, undeniable connection, their troubled worlds collide.

Trading concert stages for Cyrene’s rooftops and back alleys, they have to evade vicious thugs and Vee’s possessive manager as they unravel the mysteries connected to their dark pasts. And before the curtain falls, Micah and Vee will bring the city to its knees in their desperate bid for love, home, and a future together.

I had a good time reading my first novel from Lisa Matchev -- (it was her novel Ticker) -- and was so intrigued by the premise behind Sugar Skulls. But the novel is... messy. Confusing. Fantasy and scifi are my favorites and sink or swim fantasy is not something I am unfamiliar with. But I made it 28% and felt like I was as lost then as at the beginning. It was to the point of frustration and I set the book down. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Two Minute Review: The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher

Title: The Aeronaut's Windlass
Author: Jim Butcher
Genre: fantasy, steampunk
Series: The Cinder Spires #1
Pages: 630
Published: September 2015
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5/5

Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.

Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.

And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…

Jim Butcher and I have had an uneven relationship for years. Up until this novel, I could love (Codex Alera series) or leave (Harry Dresden) his work. And then I read The Aeronaut's Windlass and I didn't (and still don't, months later) know quite what to make of it or how I feel about it. I mean, I should love it. It should have worked for me in so many ways on so many levels. And yet.... I didn't. It didn't. There were some bright spots and characters, but on the whole, it's not the author's best work.

Don't get me wrong. I mean, I liked the novel okay --- I finished it and I wouldn't finish a 630 page novel I did not like. I just kept waiting for the worldbuilding to hit the sweet spot, the characters to gel and connect, or a favorite to emerge, or the plot to engage on a more than superficial level --- something to coalesce into the awesome I'd seen before in the author's world of Codex Alera. And for me? It just never happened. Sink or swim fantasy worldbuilding is often my favorite -- but this was a sink or swin fantasy without learning how to hold your breath. Butcher just LAUNCHES into this mad world and I couldn't grasp the cultures or the interpersonal relationships, which means he was trying too hard and it was too convoluted. 

There are good bones here and I think I can get where Butcher wants me to go, if I give the inevitable sequel a try. It's a large commitment and while book one wasn't what I had hoped to find or what the author is capable of, I do think Butcher can pull together a more coherent sequel with The Olympian Affair This one started out strong, but loses steam midway (and it's just soooooo long). On the plus side, it's undeniably full of ideas, creative applications of steampunk, and some very memorable characters.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Review: Young Widows Club by Alexandra Coutts

Title:  Young Widows Club
Author: Alexandra Coutts
Genre: contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 304
Published: November 10 2015
Source: publishers via NetGalley for review
Rating: 3.5/5

First came love, then came marriage, and then...

For seventeen-year-old Tam, running off to marry her musician boyfriend is the ideal escape from her claustrophobic high-school life on the island, and the ultimate rebellion against her father and stepmother. But when Tam becomes a widow just weeks later, the shell-shocked teen is forced to find her way forward by going back to the life she thought she’d moved beyond—even as her struggle to deal with her grief is forcing her to reinvent herself and reach out to others in ways she never imagined.

Alexandra Coutts rebounds from her debut of 2013 (the wayward post-apocalyptic Tumble & Fall) with a nuanced and well-rounded contemporary portrayal of young love and young grief. Most stories don't start with the main character's ostensible love interest dying, but Young Widows Club does. Coutts' novel is about the unexpected and her book starts out on the same page as her main character. It can be honest and brash, loud and full of understandable emotion; it's a vast improvement from her last novel.

Main character Tam thought she had her life laid out from when she was a teenager. She thought she knew where she was going and how she was going to get there and who with. Tam was wrong. We don't get to see her in the Before of Noah's death --Young Widows Club is concerned with the fallout of finding love and then losing it. It's far from your typical YA contemporary set in a high school. It's not always an easy book -- all the characters are experiencing or dealing with major loss -- and it's not exactly a shippy book, either. There are a lot of emotions in the novel (sympathy, empathy being the two chief ones) but they mostly deal with catharsis, acceptance, and grief counseling.

I loved the focus on how effective therapy can be when used in the novel. It's shown in an honest light -- because group doesn't work for all people or for all needs -- but it's so refreshing to see this in a YA novel.  The conversation about mental health is one that is rarely found in YA lit so it was very appreciated in Young Widows Club. For most of the novel, Tam is working on herself. On being a better version than she has been, on getting back into school and finding life after Noah.  The group and other characters show other sides of love and grief and while they don't have Tam's nuance or Colin's charm, they're moderately well-rounded. 

Young Widows Club has a deft touch for sensitive issues. I thought Coutts handled the plot well, though the inclusion of a romance seemed both too soon and just unneeded for the characters involved. That said, their scenes do have chemistry and charm. I just wish the novel had continued to focus on Tam's personal journey a little more before finding her a new love interest. 


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Quotes I Loved From Books I Read In The Past Year Or So

I am a great lover of quotes. I highlight, dog-ear, and even take pictures of page numbers in order to more effectively find every bad ass, snarky line uttered by fantasy characters. While I've saved a few inspiring lines from contemporaries, sarcasm is my first language and my first love. In case you couldn't tell by how many time Ms. Maas appears on this list. Quotes link back to their GR page whenever possible, in case you want to save along.

10. “I have spent my spare time studying literature popular with young women of this planet. One should always study the battlefield."
Sean glanced at him. "And?"
"I suggest you give up now. According to my research, in a vampire-werewolf love triangle, the vampire always gets the girl.”
Ilona Andrews, Clean Sweep

9. “His eyes are somewhere between gray and blue, and his hair is somewhere between brown and blond, and I am somewhere between hostile and attracted.” ― Emery Lord, Open Road Summer

8.“Witches didn't need blood to survive, but humans didn't need wine, either.” ― Sarah J. Maas, Heir of Fire / “There were few sounds she enjoyed more than the groans of dying men, but the wind was one of them.”
Sarah J. Maas, Heir of Fire

7. “It was all going so nicely, right up until the massacre.”
Alex Marshall, A Crown for Cold Silver

6. “You look . . . better than before."Was that a compliment? I could have sworn Lucien gave Tamlin an encouraging nod.
"And you hair is . . . clean.”
Sarah J. Maas, A Court of Thorns and Roses

5. “If anyone saw Monique, a well-dressed woman of quality, dangling from the doorway, they apparently assumed everyone had difficulties in life and moved on.” ― Gail Carriger, Waistcoats & Weaponry
4. “The bodies in my floor all trusted someone. Now I walk on them to tea.” ― Victoria Schwab, A Darker Shade of Magic

3. “She was Aelin Ashryver Galathynius—­and she would not be afraid.” ― Sarah J. Maas, Heir of Fire

2. “The world has gone insane, and you can't get a decent pint of lager anywhere in this bloody country. I think I can safely say that my schoolmates were correct when they predicted my eventual destination, and I am now in hell.” ― Mira Grant, Deadline

1. “Jesper knocking his head against the hull and cast his eyes heavenward. "Fine. But if Pekka Rollins kills us all, I'm going to get Wylan's ghost to teach my ghost how to play the flute just so that I can annoy the hell out of your ghost."
Brekker's lips quirked. "I'll just hire Matthias' ghost to kick your ghost's ass."

"My ghost won't associate with your ghost," Matthias said primly, and then wondered if the sea air was rotting his brain.”
Leigh Bardugo, Six of Crows

And my least favorite quote, because I never weary of punishing you all for making me read it:

"I prefer to fill my own gut before I plug a squirming wench's belly with my manroot."
Fabio, Pirate

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