Book Tour Review and GIVEAWAY for: The Forgotten Queen by D.L. Bogdan

Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Title: The Forgotten Queen
Author: D.L. Bogdan
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 384 (ARC edition)
Published: January 29, 2014
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 3.75/5

From her earliest days, Margaret Tudor knows she will not have the luxury of choosing a husband. Her duty is to gain alliances for England. Barely out of girlhood, Margaret is married by proxy to James IV and travels to Edinburgh to become Queen of Scotland.

Despite her doubts, Margaret falls under the spell of her adopted home. But while Jamie is an affectionate husband, he is not a faithful one. And nothing can guarantee Margaret’s safety when Jamie leads an army against her own brother, Henry VIII. In the wake of loss she falls prey to an ambitious earl and brings Scotland to the brink of anarchy. Beset by betrayal and secret alliances, Margaret has one aim—to preserve the crown of Scotland for her son, no matter what the cost…

A fresh perspective on the famous and often-written about Tudors is hard to come by, and thus even more noteworthy when it does manage to happen. Such is the case for veteran author D.L. Bodgan's The Forgotten Queen. The voice and narration of King Henry VIII's largely ignored elder sister Margaret provides a fresh and opinionated new view for readers to enjoy. Her large, quarrelsome family on the periphery, Bogdan has the space to create a well-fleshed out version of a woman not often noticed amongst her power-hungry and devious Tudor clan. A woman who sought love and affection more than regal authority, Margaret's missteps and mistakes are usually of her own making, which is eerily echoed in the life story of her great-grandchild Mary, Queen of Scots.

What also helps The Forgotten Queen to stand out amongst its Tudor-beginnings is that it's not really concerned with the English Court during the reign of Margaret's infamous brother. Married to James IV of Scotland, and therefor the Queen of Scots, "Maggie"'s life is centered in the highlands, amongst all the schemes and political maneuverings of England's longtime enemy. The book sets off at a brisk pace - one that it maintains for the duration of the novel. Important events and people are approached with speed, so the book flies by but the jumps in time periods can be weird to read. In one chapter, Maggie is ten, approaching her proxy marriage. The next, she is twelve/thirteen and heading into Scotland to take her rightful place. It's not a big issue for such a solidly-written novel, but occasionally when such leaps ahead occurred, they took me out of the atmosphere and story.

This was an interesting novel, to say the least. Featuring such a lively, flawed real woman as its narrator, Margaret may have been called the forgotten Tudor before, but I doubt I will forget the passion and vitality given her by this author. Bogdan goes to lengths to create a real person, with all their inherent flaws and problems for her protagonist and it makes the read more rewarding than otherwise. She can be wily or frivolous; a wise ruler or one ruled by her heart instead of her head. Even when she is not at her best (and that does happen a lot; see her about her unwillingness to part with her favorite maid, "Douglas", etc.), her inner monologue is always interesting to read about. First-person can be tricky when used in the historical fiction genre, but Bogdan pulls it off well here. Margaret feels apart of the plot at all times, even when events are far-reaching and beyond her personal sphere.

 Entertaining and fast-paced, but no without a few missteps. It's always nice to get a fresh perspective on the Tudor dynasty, and using Princess Margaret for a narrator helps a lot in that regard. Enjoyable, an easy historical read, The Forgotten Queen is a sold effort. I am more than willing tos ee what else this talented author has to say about the Tudor dynasty - as soon as I finished her latest offering, I added the rest of her works to my "to-read" shelf. If, like me, you're an avid Tudorphile, you really cannot go wrong with trying The Forgotten Queen

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Monday, January 21 Feature & Giveaway at Passages to the Past  
Review & Giveaway at Luxury Reading

Tuesday, January 22
Review at Peppermint, Ph.D. Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair

Wednesday, January 23
Review at Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews  
Interview & Giveaway at My Reading Room
Thursday, January 24  
Review at Unabridged Chick  
Review at My Reading Room

Friday, January 25  
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Libraria

Monday, January 28
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages  
Review & Giveaway at The Broke and the Bookish

Tuesday, January 29
Review & Giveaway at Always with a Book
 Review at Review From Here

Wednesday, January 30
Review & Giveaway at Ageless Pages Reviews  
Interview & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick

Thursday, January 31

Review at The True Book Addict

Friday, February 1
Review & Giveaway at The Maiden’s Court Interview & Giveaway at The True Book Addict

Review: The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier

Monday, January 28, 2013
Title: The Floating Islands
Author: Rachel Neumeier
Genre: fantasy, young-adult
Series: N/A
Pages: 388 (paperback edition)
Published: February 2011
Source: purchased
Rating: 4/5

When Trei loses his family in a tragic disaster, he must search out distant relatives in a new land. The Floating Islands are unlike anything Trei has ever seen: stunning, majestic, and graced with kajurai, men who soar the skies with wings.

Trei is instantly sky-mad, and desperate to be a kajurai himself.  The only one who fully understands his passion is Araen
è, his newfound cousin.  Prickly, sarcastic, and gifted, Araenè has a secret of her own . . . a dream a girl cannot attain.

Trei and Araen
è quickly become conspirators as they pursue their individual paths.  But neither suspects that their lives will be deeply entwined, and that the fate of the Floating Islands will lie in their hands. . . .

Filled with rich language, and told in alternating voices, The Floating Islands is an all-encompassing young adult fantasy read

Jessie's List of Reasons Why *You* Should Read The Floating Islands:

~ magic!
(Of the two novels by this author that I have read so far, she takes pains to create unique, if somewhat similar, systems of magic for her fantasy worlds.)

~ magic dragons - some of wind and some of fire!
(And both kinds are key to the plot of the story AND the backstory of both the main characters Trei and Araenè. Their respective connections to my favorite mythical beast added to the story.)

~ girls masquerading as boys for the freedom that gender provides
(Araenè is one of the prickliest and grouchiest protagonists I've come across in some time. However the restrictions on her life, due to gender and her society's repression of woman makes it understandable and her sympathetic in her flaws.)

~ dragon-given ability for people to fly with man-made wigs
(They're called kajuraihi - and this one aspect of unique worldbuilding and magic does a lot set this YA fantasy apart. The techniques and history of the society aren't as explained as they could have been - but the mystery of how the sky-mad do what they do works for them.)

~an intriguing setting unlike others I've ever read
(I've read fantasy novels about islands, about avaricious empires, about complex societies and castes, but none that combined all of those in a story about floating islands fighting against a land-bound empire. I love when authors do something new in their genre, and that is exactly the case here.)

~ complex, interesting characters
(And I'm not just talking about Trei and Araenè, either. The novice master, Cerfei, Genrai, Trei's family, etc.; All are reasonably fleshed out - both good and bad aspects. It's a vast improvement over the Karah Mary Sue nature of Neumeier's House of Shadows main characters.)

~ a creative plot
(involving warring cultures, themes of loss and home, battles of steam technology versus nature, etc. Captivating and just plain fun from start to finish.)

The Floating Islands had a lot going for it. Compulsively readable, intensely unique, and well-written, it's going to easily stand out for fans of fantasy. Fans of Neumeier's previous novels will enjoy it and new fans will find it a promising entrance into the vivid imagination of a prolific and talented author.

Review: The Wizard of Dark Street by Shawn Thomas Odyssey

Sunday, January 27, 2013
Title: The Wizard of Dark Streey
Author: Shawn Thomas Odyssey
Genre: middle grade, fantasy
Series: Oona Crate #1
Pages: 348 (hardcover edition)
Published: July 2011
Source: purchased
Rating: 5/5

Oona Crate was born to be the Wizard’s apprentice, but she has another destiny in mind.

Despite possessing the rare gift of natural magic, Oona wants to be a detective. Eager for a case to prove herself, she wants to show her uncle—the Wizard of Dark Street—that logic is as powerful as magic. But when someone attacks the Wizard, Oona must delve even deeper into the world of magic to discover who wanted her uncle dead.

Full of magic, odd characters, evil henchmen, and a street where nothing is normal, The Wizard of Dark Street will have you guessing until the very end.

Reviewed by Danielle.

When I was in the 9-12 age range, some of my favorite books were mysteries, particularly the kind where no one got hurt and I got to play along at home. Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, "Alfred Hitchcock", (though I could never guess those twists. The diamond was in the python, who was in the acrobats' baton?!) I think Oona Crate and The Wizard of Dark Street would have made little-me very happy and will certainly become a mainstay in my house as my nieces enter their middle-grade years.

Dark Street is an entire city condensed into one very long road. At one end, an iron gate that opens into our world. At the other, a glass gate that opens into the world of the fae. But that gate doesn't open any more. Cut off from the magical world of Faerie for so long, Dark Street, and New York beyond, have very little magic to tap into, except for the Wizard. The Wizard lives in Pendulum House and is responsible for the street's magical needs. There must always be a Wizard on Dark Street, even if he's a rather mediocre one like Uncle Alexander. Fortunately, Oona is the most promising Wizard apprentice in some time. She has Natural Magic, unlike her uncle's Learned variety. Unfortunately, she has no interest in being a Wizard, after a tragedy several years before book start.

First, Oona is fantastic. She's logical, resourceful, and brave. When she's thrust into the heart of a mystery, her immediate reaction isn't to fall to pieces, but to find a way to make it right. After being a Wizard didn't work out, she realizes what she really wants is to be a detective like her dad. She handles the career switch pretty maturely for a 12 year old and sets off to solve two seemingly unrelated mysteries. She's joined by a motley assortment of side characters who I wish had gotten more screen time. There's a talking animal sidekick, a wise servant, a prissy rich girl, a mysterious love interest, a timid witch, and the one who's not from around here. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to flesh them out, what with them all being murder suspects, and that did show towards the end of the book when I realized that after 345 pages, I wasn't rock solid on any of the apprentice candidates names.

The mystery is appropriately twisty, but not unfairly so. You may be able to guess the culprit relatively quickly, but the manner in which whodunit kept me guessing all book long. In the vein of old Nancy Drew stories, every single detail is vitally important and not a piece of candy can be overlooked in the conclusion. Including candy. And overturned stones. And cinnamon.

The Wizard of Dark Street is a bright, smart Middle-Grade fantasy with a great protagonist and a world I'm eager to revisit. If I could give it a grade, (oh look, I can!) I'd say A and a gold star.

Review: Also Known As by Robin Benway

Saturday, January 26, 2013
Title: Also Known As
Author: Robin Benway
Genre: young-adult, mystery
Series: N/A
Pages: 320 (ARC edition)
Published: expected February 26 2013
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5/5

Being a 16-year-old safecracker and active-duty daughter of international spies has its moments, good and bad. Pros: Seeing the world one crime-solving adventure at a time. Having parents with super cool jobs. Cons: Never staying in one place long enough to have friends or a boyfriend. But for Maggie Silver, the biggest perk of all has been avoiding high school and the accompanying cliques, bad lunches, and frustratingly simple locker combinations. Then Maggie and her parents are sent to New York for her first solo assignment, and all of that changes. She'll need to attend a private school, avoid the temptation to hack the school's security system, and befriend one aggravatingly cute Jesse Oliver to gain the essential information she needs to crack the case . . . all while trying not to blow her cover.

Reviewed by Danielle.

Margaret [Redacted], AKA Maggie Silver, AKA Peggy, Maisie, Molly, Margie, or Meg. Suspect has a long history of espionage, dating back thirteen years. She is believed to be a member of the Collective, working as the safecracker on a team of two or three other intelligence agents. These team members are believed to be her immediate family. Suspect should not be considered armed or dangerous, but is believed to be exceptionally emotionally volatile.

Maggie learned to pick locks when she was three. Being born to a hacker and...what is her dad’s speciality? (Actually, the first chapter makes her parents seem AWESOME. Orphans who met during the fall of communism in Moscow and became spies together? Spin-off, please.) Anyway, being born to two spies means she was never destined for a normal childhood. Maggie is cracking bad guys’ safes in Luxembourg and Bosnia before her baby teeth fall out. Her family and the Collective are good spies, only gathering information and stolen good to take down baddies. They fly around on private jets, collecting evidence of human trafficking rings and art forgery, living in the shadows, but now a newspaper has information on the group and is threatening to name names.

Maggie is assigned her first solo mission. Enter private school, befriend Jesse Oliver, son of the newspaper magnate, and use him to gain access to Papa Oliver’s files. This turns out to be far harder than expected, because (shock!) high school really, really blows. Maggie befriends the drunken former mean-girl Roux as her ONLY teenage acquaintance, severely limiting her social standing and causing her to have to bail on missions to drag her alcoholic ass home. Fortunately, she does manage to end up in Jesse’s presence. Unfortunately she happens to be shouting into a cell phone at the time that she’s really a good spy, really! Congratulations Maggie, you've blown decades of covers in two seconds because you can’t use code words or wait until you get home to complain to your mom that she’s being totes unfair.

Luckily, Jesse is dumb as a box of rocks and accepts the lie that she was talking to Roux about their Halloween party. That she tries to convince Roux to throw as her alibi. And Roux says no. And that’s not weird to Jesse, because he’s throwing a Halloween party himself and now the girls get to go! Before they leave, Maggie’s assigned her family friend and forger, Angelo, as her tail. She throws a complete shit-fit because grown-ups don’t need back-up, mooooooom!

Now seems like a good point to stop and say all of the “spies” in this book are just terrible. Maggie, despite having 13 years experience, is whiny, petulant, unsubtle, and entirely too trusting of her new friend and boyfriend. Her parents, who would have 22 years of experience and just spent months establishing and infiltrating an Icelandic human trafficking ring, lose their minds that the job isn't done in one day. They nag incessantly, refuse to trust Maggie for a single second, and blame her for their bad intel. Again, Maggie's no saint, but enforcing a curfew on a working spy and almost blowing her cover because you just HAD to go to parent-teacher conferences? I was starting to wonder if they were trying to sabotage her mission.

Angelo is the only one who does anything remotely spy-y for the whole book, and is also the only one who seems to remember Maggie is a trained agent, which of course means he's fooled by fake intel and disappears before the climax. Despite training, Maggie's spy work never moves beyond Harriet the. That works when taking a MasterLock tm off a fence to impress a boy, but to go into the big baddy's hideout with a diamond tipped drill but no lock picks? Sydney Bristow she is not.

In the end, Also Known As isn't much of a spy novel. It's a fish-out-of-water story with a tepid romance, funny sidekick, and a mystery that barely starts until the third act, just in time for Maggie to find her unique voice, rebel to show her parents she's trustworthy, and get the boy. It's an average representation of high school with some completely ludicrous details, fine to good side characters, and wit. That it doesn't take itself too seriously is Also Known As's greatest strength. Still, it's more Goldmember than Goldfinger. 

Review: Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt

Saturday, January 19, 2013
Title: Going Vintage
Author: Lindsey Leavitt
Genre: young-adult, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 330 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected March 26, 2013
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3/5

Sixteen-year-old Mallory loves her boyfriend, Jeremy. Or at least likes him more than she's ever liked any other boy. She's suree feels the same way. Until she happens upon his online Authentic Life game and discovers he's cheating on her Mallory's life is falling apart and technology is the cause. And then she finds a list, written by her grandma when she was Mallory's age. All her grandma had to worry about was sewing dresses and planning dinner parties. Things were so much simpler in the 1960s. And there's nothing on the list that Mallory couldn't do herself. Maybe it's time for Mallory to go vintage and find the answers to her modern-day problems.

I hate to damn a book with faint praise, but the only thing that came to my mind upon finishing this novel was: blandly inoffensive? Simple, forgettable, if sometimes charming? There are characters that are sometimes funny, sometimes flat, but they never really approach what I think of as three-dimensional? Underdeveloped and stiff initially, there's a lot of room for growth in that department. They came, they did their thing to various repercussions, but none really interested me worth investing in? A lot of what happened came off as predictable, or just silly, but Going Vintage wasn't bad - it was just sort of there. I liked it enough to continue through to the end, but not enough that I would recommend for a friends or another reader to buy. Borrow? Sure. But to spend that hard-earned cash on a novel that is harmless and so reminiscent of many other YA contemporaries? Not so much.

One day and done, and I doubt I'll think back on or even remember this in a month. Going Vintage has its moments - of cuteness, or exasperation, but it's hardly a stand-out effort. Basically, this was 340 pages of fluff. I didn't have to think too hard, pay that much attention, care at all. There is nothing I can point at and say was wrong with it, but neither is there anything I can point out as right or amazing about it. Inoffensive. Yeah, I'm going to have to go with that for my overall impression. The main character isn't too stupid to live, the romance is not the worst I've read - even this month - but I'm hard pressed to find anything about it that was wholly unique. The 'going vintage' aspect might work, but it didn't really pull me into the story all that much, either. 

I have so little to say about this, that I can't really go on much more. It was minimally engaging, mildly interesting, and all-too-often predictable. This failed to really make a lasting impression, the way really good contemporary YA should, like with anything Melina Marchetta writes. Jellicoe Road left me wrecked emotionally. It took me days to get over that book and start another. With Going Vintage, for me, it was much more of a nonevent when it was all said and done. Cover closed, a few minutes of thought and it was onto the next book. Going Vintage is inoffensive, it's not horrible, but it had opportunities and potential that were just missed. Lindsey Leavitt has some talent as an author, but it wasn't used to her best efforts here, and that is lamentable.

Review: Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell

Thursday, January 17, 2013
Title: Shadow on the Crown
Author: Patricia Bracewell
Genre: historical fiction
Series: Untitled #1 
Pages: 436 (ARC edition)
Published: expected February 7 2013
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 4/5

In 1002, fifteen­-year-old Emma of Normandy crosses the Narrow Sea to wed the much older King Athelred of England, whom she meets for the first time at the church door. Thrust into an unfamiliar and treacherous court, with a husband who mistrusts her, stepsons who resent her and a bewitching rival who covets her crown, Emma must defend herself against her enemies and secure her status as queen by bearing a son.

Determined to outmaneuver her adversaries, Emma forges alliances with influential men at court and wins the affection of the English people. But her growing love for a man who is not her husband and the imminent threat of a Viking invasion jeopardize both her crown and her life.

Based on real events recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Shadow on the Crown introduces readers to a fascinating, overlooked period of history and an unforgettable heroine whose quest to find her place in the world will resonate with modern readers.

More and more I find I am drawn to historical fiction novels that are based on real events, as is the case with Bracewell's first novel. Shadows on the Crown is set during a largely ignored period; an era of special violence and turbulence in England. The struggles of the all characters, mainly protagonist and one of the narrators, Emma of Normandy, are rooted in historical fact. While the author is admittedly not afraid to play fast and loose with some facts, names, dates, Emma's story is fascinating and also based on a biography this strong Queen herself commissioned late in 1017. Filled with action, forbidden love, Swedish vikings and a mad king, Shadows on the Crown is a sure fit for historical fiction fans looking for an unconventional time and strong, determined female characters.

Covering only three years (1002 - 1005 AD) of the long life of this important, if largely forgotten by modern-day authors, Queen of England, this is a fast-paced, quick read despite the dauting 400+ page length. The third person POV can create a bit of distance from the various narrators  - Emma, her husband Aethelred (often called, incorrectly, the 'Unready'), Aethelred's son Aethelstan, and minor antagonist Elgvia (Aelgifu) of Northhampton - but each character coalesces into an easily identifiable voice and tone early on. This is the first of a forthcoming, currently unnamed series, and the brisk pace and POV jumps do prevent the readers from a solid grasp on the players for a fair bit of the novel. However, it is early days yet, both in Emma's vastly interesting life and in this author's trilogy, so I do think some improvement will come in that aspect. It's also worth noting that there are so many Ae- names that the extensive character list at the very beginning of the book comes quite in handy for the first 200 pages.

There's a lot of conflict at the heart of the novel, and in Emma's precarious existence in the English court. Conflict between Aethelred and his new Norman wife, some of which, quite honestly, was hard for me to read; conflict between England and the Swedish King Swein Forkbeard; and more conflict between Aethelred's first family and his new one over the inheritance. Primarily little more than a hostage to the good behavior of her brother the Duke of Normandy, Emma strives for security, safety and love in a den of suspicious vipers. The antagonists of the novel are multiple and vary in size and threat - from the vixen from the North with her eyes on the King of England and Emma's place, to the King himself, and last but not least, Swein Forkbeard's Viking incursions, there's plenty of action and deceit to go around.

I honestly could have done without the forbidden, star-crossed lovers route that engages two of the characters. For the most part, it bored me while frustrating me; it is wholly unnecessary. Another subplot created for suspense and tension by the author, it didn't ring as true as the rest of the novel, nor fit with the motivations of either character involved. I don't want to spoil anything for future readers, but I felt both were better off without a romantic entanglement of that sort. For me, caught up in fare more interesting struggles of the characters, it overall added nothing of worth to the novel. That conflict in addition to the distance nature of the narration are the only things that kept this from being a higher-rated novel.

I liked this. It was evenly good throughout, though I wish I had more of a grasp on the characters themselves. However, this is the first in a trilogy so they, and the author, will have ample time and pages to grow. The author's note is a captivating read for many reasons, I urge readers not to skip it; it definitely adds more color to an already entertaining novel. Shadows on the Crown is a strong attempt for Bracewell to fill in the missing years from Emma's commissioned biography, and happily, she does so easily and believably. The best historical fiction novels are the ones that make you intensely curious about the time, places, and people portrayed and this is such a one.

 A liberal view of history, a strong sense of time and character, and a brisk pace all add up to make Patricia Bracewell's first novel an encouraging one. I eagerly await the forthcoming sequels, and will have to sate my new interest in thsi time and people with Wikipedia other sources until they're published. Don't miss this exciting, involving and fresh novel from a talented new author.

Review: Wedding Dress for Sale by Natale Stenzel

Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Title: Wedding Dress for Sale
Author: Natale Stenzel
Genre: romance novel
Series: Second Story Brides #1
Published: October 25, 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2/5

Not even the bride could deny a certain punch-line quality to her current situation: hard-nosed divorce attorney dumps her fiancé and her career to take a job selling wedding gowns.

Sydney Garfield has always approached relationships rationally—none of this emotional head-over-heels or opposites-attract business. Marrying Jack Kaiser is the smart thing to do—after all, he’ll be the “perfect” husband. But after a life-changing shake-up at work, Sydney abandons logic—and her fiancé—to chase the fairy tale.

Real-estate mogul Jack can’t believe the woman he’s head-over-heels for is ditching her hard-won success—and him—to work as a small-town shop clerk. That’s her idea of a fairy tale? Hoping she's merely in need of time, Jack follows Sydney to Smizer Mill, where he invests in the quaint coffee shop next door. Now, he’s got a few new challenges: make a failing coffee shop a success and convince Sydney that theirs is a romance worthy of a true happily ever after.

Reviewed by Danielle.

Romances are, by definition, a fantasy, and as such, require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. Afterall, no one asks why Gandalf didn’t summon Gwaihir to fly the hobbits to Mount Doom or why Dumbledore didn’t use the Time Turner to stop Voldemort from being born, and no one should ask who thought it would be a good idea to make a fluffy romance about wedding dresses into a traumatic story about stalking and violence against women. Except, no. “Fantasy” is not a buzzword to be used to handwave away criticism of weak plotting, poor characterizations, and flat out offensiveness. Fantasies have defined rules and Wedding Dress for Sale has none.

Sydney Garfield is standing in the middle of a bridal dress consignment shop, preparing to divest herself of the last remnant of her engagement when her ex-fiance, Jack Kaiser, bursts in. He has followed her through four COUNTIES, ostensibly because her brake light is out. Later in the book, it takes a character several hours to make it from St. Louis, where Jack lives, to Smizer Mill. At no point in a 2 hour drive did Jack think to TEXT Sydney and say, “Hey, I know you’re not speaking to me because we broke up, but your brake light’s out. Peace.” This is because Jack is, as he jokes, a stalker.

“Stalking is a term commonly used to refer to unwanted or obsessive attention by an individual or group toward another person” (Via Wikipedia, emphasis mine.)

Sydney is clearly uncomfortable with Jack’s presence as he berates her in front of Ginny, the store owner. He make cryptic references to “Murphy”, whom Jack believes is the reason for the break-up. It takes the entire book to unravel the “mystery” of Murphy, but I’ll go ahead and spare you the wasted hours, <SPOILER WARNING> Ted Murphy and Nita Murphy got a divorce, with Sydney representing Nita. They had the perfect marriage built on respect and admiration, and a perfectly reasonable divorce. But, some unspecified time later, Murphy went off his meds and threatened Nita with a letter opener. It turned into a media circus and hostage situation and apparently newspapers are blaming Sydney for the whole thing. Which is totes rational. Murphy’s in jail, Nita’s a heartless shrew, Sydney’s faith in marriage as an institution is shaken. </END of SPOILERS> After much cajoling, and his attempt to reverse psychology Sydney out of selling by taking over and doing it for her, Jack finally leaves and Sydney decides she can’t go back to St. Louis and takes Ginny up on a job offer.

Jack, lonesome without his ex to boss around, takes to calling her old office. He finally weasels out that she quit and becomes quite upset. He then drives to her apartment and harrasses a doorman until he discovers that Sydney broke her lease. Now in rational people land, if my ex, who underwent a traumatic experience and was being hounded by the papers, decided to leave town without telling me, I would probably think she was trying to get away from me and her old life. I might be worried, I might even call her best friend to make sure the psycho didn’t walk off with her, but I would not STALK HER SOME MORE. But then, I’m not real estate magnate Jack Kaiser.

Let’s stop for a moment. Stalking is a serious crime. In the best cases, it makes the victim feel vulnerable and afraid. It leaves lasting psychological scars. In it’s worst cases, it results in loss of life. It is NOT: going to your boyfriend’s house to confront him about cheating on you. It might be: following your ex-girlfriend, finding out confidential information on where she’s staying, inserting yourself into her daily activities to keep an eye on her, spying on her from the park... Yet, Jack does every single thing on the maybe list and is regarded as cute and romantic. He is not. Jack Kaiser is a predator taking advantage of Sydney’s emotional trauma from witnessing the stalking, kidnapping, and violence of her friend. Sydney needs psychological counseling, not a puppy, (which further increases her dependence on Jack.) The fact that everyone in the entire novel glosses over this, but jokes about what a stalker Sydney is, well...

As you may have guessed, Jack also moves to Smizer Mill. He buys into a coffee shop NEXT DOOR to the bridal shop and bribes the owner into teaching him to make mochas so he can take one to Sydney every morning. Honestly, from there until the last 20%, we have a rather standard romance. Jack wins back Sydney’s trust by being comforting, sweet, and bland. They walk the puppy, talk about Sydney’s fears like grown-ups, and eventually decide to see each other on a day-by-day basis. This ~third of the book is the only redeeming factor, and even it is marred with jokes about Sydney stalking Jack, a subplot about a hot vet that goes nowhere, and Ginny the psychic wedding dress saleswoman.

And here’s where we really go off the rails. Spoilers from here to the end, sorry.
Ginny has some sort of magical bride powers that tell her when people will get married and what dress they’ll wear. Ginny calls Sydney upstairs to “try on a dress for another bride who’s about your size.” It is of course, “The Dress” and seeing it convinces Sydney that maybe marriage isn’t so bad after all. But there’s a twist! The dress...

is empire waisted! (*gasp shock faint*)

Wait, what?

You see, Jack and Sydney had one night of torrid passion before she broke up with him. Despite being adamantly against children, due to her own childhood of neglect since her mother was a teenage bride with no support and worked like a million jobs, someone forgot to wrap it. Based solely on the fact that “The Dress” has an empire cut, Ginny informs Sydney that she’s pregnant from this encounter.

Sydney is obviously a bit skeptical of her fairy/witch/alien boss, but Ginny has irrefutable proof! Syd loved coffee when she came to town and now she doesn’t! With this information firmly in hand, Sydney proceeds to have a nervous breakdown, but never considers other options to an unwanted pregnancy. She does treat us to a thrilling visit to Walmart to buy a pee test and a charming scene of cleaning up vomit after she, surprise, is totally pregnant! And now she has to tell the man with whom she’s only agreed to take things one day at a time.

Of course, trying to be smooth, Jack’s all, “Oh babies suck, let’s never have them, let’s not even move in together, one day at a time girl, you and me,” when Sydney tries to broach the topic. She gets mad, blurts out the truth, and starts to storm off when the final act hits.

Nita calls to let Sydney know Ted’s out of jail and looking for her. Jack gets all alpha-hole and goes off on a big rant culminating in, “Obviously, the authorities can’t protect you. So I will. You’re coming with me where I can keep you safe.”Sydney swoons and realizes that she loved him all along, she was just scared. But now she knows there’s no one better to marry than a hyper protective stalker. This realization turns her on and gives us some truly, TRULY wtf moments:

Jack Kaiser, hot real-estate magnate and adorably bumbling - heartbreakingly sincere - lover. Just wait until she got her hands on him.

“Just to clarify...You want to have sex with me? Now?” He gave her a shocked look. “We’re racing time against a maniac who threatens to carve up women and you’re talking about sex? Are you nuts?”
She widened her eyes. “So you don’t-”
“I mean, yeah, sure, let’s go.” Eyes feverish, he started yanking the shirt out of his waistband.


“God Jack, I can’t believe we stopped for sex when we had a maniac on our tail.”


Jack decides that they’re not safe at Sydney’s apartment, because reasons, so he hauls her down the street to the coffee shop. Please note that no one has called the police. Obviously Ted is already there waiting, which means they had sex for like two hours. Ted tries to explain that it was all a misunderstanding, he wasn’t trying to hurt Nita, when Jack lays him the fuck out with one punch. Real-estate magnate and apparent Navy SEAL, Jack subdues Ted, which leaves us with time for a misunderstood villain monologue.
“But that’s a letter opener.”
“Exactly!” Ted smiled with relief. “That’s what I wanted to show you. I didn’t have a knife when I held Nita. It was a letter opener like this one. I mean, I guess it could do damage, but it wasn’t a knife. So, technically, it wasn’t a weapon.”
Sydney eyed him with disbelief. “I don’t care if it’s a thick, pointy paper clip. It looks sharp to me. Were you going to stab me with it?”
No. I just brought it with me to show it to you. Proof, I guess, to convince you I’m not a maniac. I wanted to explain and -” He sighed heavily. “I wanted to apologize.”

Well that makes everything OK! Anything else you want to tell us, Ted?

“And that’s when you discovered it was dangerous to go off that type of [anxiety and BPD] medicine without a doctor’s supervision. Violently dangerous? Psychotically dangerous?”
“Um...yeah. I really am sorry.”

I have four more long, awful quotes highlighted, but they all amount to the same icky apologizing with a huge helping of victim blaming and I fear I might go over my percentage of quotes for fair use “for purposes such as criticism, comment”. I’ll just leave you with this last gem.

“I’d give anything to have Nita pregnant with our child.” Murphy stared longingly at Sydney’s belly.”

Murphy leaves the coffee shop and the police chief shows up to say, yeah, you may have been too dumb to call me, but like a hundred other people did. I’ve got officers out there to take him into custody. SOMEONE WITH SENSE! I COULD WEEP! Of course, he let a maniac just hang out in the coffee shop until Sydney showed up, talk to her for an indeterminate amount of time without sending anyone in, and is going to arrest him for...nothing, because Sydney doesn’t have an OP against him and he didn’t do anything but hold a letter opener in her presence. Nevermind, I’m back to weeping for other reasons.

Sydney then feels this is the appropriate time to stand in main street and shout that she’s pregnant and we close out our hostage negotiation with a laugh track.. Cut to the epilogue and our heros are planning their wedding, again,, Sydney’s opened up a small law office in town, and Jack does one more gross, manipulative thing to twist the knife one last time. He’s agreed to sign a pre-nup, even though they don’t need one because they’re so in looooooove, but he’s written it himself! If they divorce, Sydney gets everything, but she must act as his lawyer in litigation. Let me repeat. She gets everything if she violates her professional ethics, acts in a conflict of interests, and represents her ex-husband in their divorce. This is his life insurance policy that Sydney will never be able to leave him. WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS FUCKERY?

Sydney signs, the second in the series is set up, whatever. The book is done and so am I. Yay.

Book Tour Review: A Thing Done by Tinney Sue Heath

Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Title: A Thing Done
Author: Tinney Sue Heath
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 320 (ARC edition)
Published: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 3.5/5

In 1216 the noble families of Florence hold great power, but they do not share it easily. Tensions simmer just below the surface. When a Jester's prank-for-hire sets off a brawl, those tensions erupt violently, dividing Florence into hostile factions. A marriage is brokered to make peace, but that fragile alliance crumbles under the pressure of a woman's interference, a scorned bride, and an outraged cry for revenge.

At the center of the conflict is Corrado, the Jester, whose prank began it and who is now pressed into unwilling service by both sides. It will take all his wit and ingenuity to keep himself alive, to protect those dear to him, and to prevent the unbridled ambitions of the nobles from destroying the city in a brutal civil war.

Venturing into the fertile field of medieval Italy, Tinney Sue Heath's novel is a careful and detailed look at one of the most famous feuds and vendettas, hailing from the city of Florence. For my taste, I thought A Thing Done could be a little too focused on minor details, like clothes or the set up of a nobleman's room, and occasionally came off a bit flat in the narration. However, overall, this was a solid historical fiction effort that kept my attention. It certainly doesn't hurt that the plot of the novel is fascinating, and based on historical fact, as are the majority of the characters. Focused on the beginnings of the infamous and long-lasting Guelph/Ghibelline struggle in Italy, A Thing Done is a novel about love, vendettas, and history.

I could tell from the great first line of the novel ("It was a fool that began it, but it took a woman to turn it murderous") that the narrator of the novel was going to be one I liked. Corrado is a fool, both for his profession and also in some of the things he does over the course of the novel. He was smart, likeable and forthright, all the while making being manipulated into tense situations and bad decisions. It's easy to root for the little guy, and in A Thing Done, it doesn't get smaller than Corrado. Heath does a good job of presenting a nicely flawed main character with the Fool; he may have to juggle the machinations of two great lords without the other knowing, but his personality was well-defined from the start. An unwilling participant in the feud between Great Families, this working-class peasant is in an untenable situation from the first page and his journey to be free of "the people with surnames" (as he calls the nobility) and their endless scheming is both tense and engaging.

The beginning was admittedly the toughest part for me to get involved in. There are a lot of families, names, factions and agendas flying around Corrado and his friends; sorting out who is who and who wants what can take some time. By about 75ish pages in, I had adjusted to Corrado's sometimes dry attention to detail and figured out the main plotlines and characters at play. For those reasons, it's a bit slow at the start, but the rest of the novel is more than worth the time it takes to get a grip on the various Donatis, Buondelmontis, Ubertis, Fifantis, and Amideis running rampant with plots and maneuvers. Corrado's role as unwilling accomplice to each (unknowing) party makes for an itneresting back and forth between the two major factions, and  helps to illustrate how much this minor insult turned a city on its head and instigated a major feud.

Tinney Sue Heath has more than proven she knows her history very well with this novel. Replete with a large cast and detailed plot, A Thing Done goes to lengths to provide a fulfilling, if short, glimpse into Florentine life in 13th century Italy. It may not be the asiest novel to get into, but the journey and end payoff are more than worth the few hundred pages it takes to conclude. The denouement was a bit abrupt, but serves adequately to wrap up the lives and tales of the story's most prominent, surviving, characters.


Monday, January 14
Review & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Author Interview & Giveaway at The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, January 15
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews

Wednesday, January 16
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee

Thursday, January 17
Review at The Book Garden

Friday, January 18
Review at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Author Guest Post & Giveaway at A Bookish Libraria

Monday, January 21
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages

Tuesday, January 22
Review at A Book Geek
Review at Judith Starkston’s Blog

Wednesday, January 23
Review & Giveaway at A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, January 24
Review at A Bookish Affair

Friday, January 25
Author Guest Post & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair

Review: Deep Betrayal by Anne Greenwood Brown

Thursday, January 10, 2013
Title: Deep Betrayal
Author: Anne Greenwood Brown
Genre: young-adult, supernatural
Series: Lies Beneath #2
Pages: 336 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected March 12 2013
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2/5

Once you dive into Deep Betrayal, the sequel to Lies Beneath, you won't come up for air!

It's been thirty days, two hours, and seventeen minutes since Calder left Lily standing on the shores of Lake Superior. Not that she's counting. And when Calder does return, it's not quite the reunion Lily hoped for. Especially after she lets her father in on a huge secret: he, like Calder, is a merman. Obsessed with his new identity, Lily's dad monopolizes Calder's time as the two of them spend every day in the water, leaving Lily behind.

Then dead bodies start washing ashore. Calder blames his mermaid sisters, but Lily fears her father has embraced the merman's natural need to kill. As the body count grows, everyone is pointing fingers. Lily doesn't know what to believe—only that whoever's responsible is sure to strike again. . . .

Aaaand another one drowns in the water? one bites the dust. Yet another victim of the dreaded Sequel Syndrome, wherein a follow-up to well-loved first novel can't execute or maintain that level previous level of excellence, Deep Betrayal was a miss for me. My last read for the year of 2012, I was rather disappointed with how this anticipated novel turned out. I was a big fan of the eeeeevil mermaids from Lake Superior in the first book Lies Beneath, but that was far from the case with Deep Betrayal. I gave the first one 4 out of 5 stars; I hesitated to award this one even the grudging 2 I finally went with. I had high hopes and expectations for Anne Greenwood Brown's latest, and they came crashing down by page one hundred.

I can't deny that the same elements from the first are present here in the second: evil mermaids with vengeance, an often creepy and remote love interest, Lily's struggles with her parents. What was new was that it was all missing the spark, the fun that was so evident in the previous book. Yes, Calder's sisters are evil and revenge-driven, but damnit, they were so entertaining in Lies Beneath! I had fun reading about them and their plots and plans for vengeance on the hapless humans. For the majority of my two-day read of this book, I was flat-out bored....which was the least-expected reaction I'd have thought. I honestly could've finished this in one day, but I was put off by a lot of what doesn't happen over the course of the novel, I jsut had to take several breaks and watch Psych instead.

The murder mystery that is supposedly a big part of the novel's main plot takes a backseat to A LOT of angst.  Especially for the begining over the novel: Lily's annoying angst over Calder's 31-day alienation from Lily (I'm sorry... you knew him for all of a month before and now you're miserable without him? Shades of Bella Swan don't look good on anyone trying to create a strong, likeable female protagonist). First-person does her no favors, either; every time she brought up Calder, I wished she was a real girl so I could smack some sense into her. The girl is separated from her family (with her father the target of a murderous plot) and who does she whine and miss? That's right, the murderous merman who lied and manipulated her for half the time she'd known him. I can forgive a lot if I like the characters, and while I admit that Lily wasn't my favorite from Lies Beneath, at least I didn't have to read her inner monologue. I missed Calder's self-deprecation and ambiguity. Lily, for me, is exactly what she reads as: a boy-crazy vapid girl.

Deep Betrayal could be summed up best for as easily as this: Lily whines about Calder. Lily whines about her dad. Someone dies mysteriously. Lily whines about her lack of mermaidness. Boy drama. Lily whines about Calder. Rinse, repeat for 330ish pages and voila! You just saved yourself from an exercise in boredom and frustration. These are, or were, interesting characters. The author just needs to do more with them than romantical bullshit to make this a good book. I can only take so from much love-triangles (it's hinted at enough to frustrate), miscommunications and pure angst.

I did give this book two stars for the only reasons that saved it from being a DNF: I honestly didn't know who the murderer was, and consequently, Brown's talent for writing a good mystery. Brown, technically, is a fairly decent author. It's just her characters and plot that I take major issues with. I was intrigued by the origin story revealed for the mermaid species, but as I feared, it was mostly glossed over to focus on Lily's issues with her maybe-boyfriend and her distant father. I had so much hope for this, but now I doubt I'll be continuing the series at all.

Deep Betrayal just wasn't the book for me. A lot of people, like me, loved the first and hopefully will have the same reaction for the sequel The weakness of the heroine and the insipid nature of her narrative were too hard for me to overcome, but at the heart of the book, I could see why/if others would find more fun in the pages. But for me personally, I have to say boredom is a killer when it comes to reading books, and boy did this one slay me.

Book Tour Review: The Midwife's Tale by Sam Thomas

Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Title: The Midwife's Tale
Author: Sam Thomas
Genre: historical fiction, mystery
Series: N/A
Pages: 308 (ARC edition)
Published: January 8, 2013
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Rating: 3.75/5

It is 1644, and Parliament’s armies have risen against the King and laid siege to the city of York. Even as the city suffers at the rebels’ hands, midwife Bridget Hodgson becomes embroiled in a different sort of rebellion. One of Bridget’s friends, Esther Cooper, has been convicted of murdering her husband and sentenced to be burnt alive. Convinced that her friend is innocent, Bridget sets out to find the real killer.

Bridget joins forces with Martha Hawkins, a servant who’s far more skilled with a knife than any respectable woman ought to be. To save Esther from the stake, they must dodge rebel artillery, confront a murderous figure from Martha’s past, and capture a brutal killer who will stop at nothing to cover his tracks. The investigation takes Bridget and Martha from the homes of the city’s most powerful families to the alleyways of its poorest neighborhoods. As they delve into the life of Esther’s murdered husband, they discover that his ostentatious Puritanism hid a deeply sinister secret life, and that far too often tyranny and treason go hand in hand.

Sam Thomas is a historian with a talent for the fictional side of writing, which is much to the benefit of his first novel, The Midwife's Tale. With a clever plot that will keep readers guessing about the culprit until the end, and with a keen eye for the details of the period, this is a book that will keep its audience more than entertained until the last page turns. Politics, misogyny, murder, history, revenge and love all collide to picture a time of civil unrest and personal uncertainty under the author's skilled pen. In the midst of a town under siege, in the middle of a war between England's King and it's Parliament, midwife Bridget Hodgson tirelessly works her trade for the better of all she knows. A novel that manages to keep the mystery element on par with the abundance of detailed information and period particulars, The Midwife's Tale is a worthwhile entry into the historical fiction mystery subgenre.  

Bridget is a complicated woman, and Thomas takes care to showcase many aspects of her personality. I did feel that some of the side characters were occasionally flat or one-dimensional in how they were presented during the narrative (particularly the minor antagonist of Tom), but I never got that feeling with main character Bridget. She has a past full of grief (that is slowly revealed to the readers and her story progresses), a stalwart and admirable dedication to her chosen profession, an ironclad sense of who she is and what she does, as well as refusing to be put in her place as a woman. I loved reading Bridget - she's feisty and smart and not afraid to get rough with others if she has to, and as she demonstrates more than once. No wallflower, Bridget faces life head-on and ready for whatever it - or anyone else - throws at her. Rather than enjoy life a wealthy widow, Bridget is the most talented and formidable midwife York has to offer. Her connections, amongst politicians, wives, gossip help to foster her investigative endeavors as well as flesh out the several minor subplots the novel contains. Her story felt natural despite its fantastical twists and turns, which makes sense as the author mentions in his interesting note at the end, her character was based on a real York midwife of the same name.

As much as I enjoyed Bridget, Sam Thomas is at his best with describing the setting and the details it takes it create a vivid, real sense of place. The Midwife's Tale is without a doubt deftly written, as is Bridget, I was always excited to see what else Thomas would reveal about York, or about the role of a midwife in that time period. I personally hadn't read much about 1640's England (I tend to stick the the War of the Roses - Tudor dynasty in my reads), but this was a welcome introduction to a tumultuous and vastly interesting period for the English. The politics angle of the plot was well-handled; introduced neatly and so someone without a background in the area could grasp the subtle interchanges and what they meant for either side, it added an extra layer of tension to the goings-on, both for Bridget's investigation and for its more violent representation in the battle for York outside the walls.

Fast-paced, engaging, and featuring a mystery with enough missteps and red herrings to keep the outcome a surprise until the grand reveal, there's a lot to enjoy about Sam Thomas's first foray into the historical and mystery genres. I can only hope the small hints of further investigation featuring Bridget and her Joan-of-all-trades servant Martha will result in at least one sequel featuring these two feisty women. Fans of historical fiction should pick this up for a fast, engaging read with a complex protagonist with a headstrong mind of her own.


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Monday, January 7
Review & Giveaway at A Chick Who Reads
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Tuesday, January 8
Review at The Novel Life
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages

Wednesday, January 9
Review & Giveaway at Ageless Pages Reviews
Review & Author Interview at A Bookish Libraria

Thursday, January 10
Review at Raging Bibliomania

Friday, January 11
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Monday, January 14
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Tuesday, January 15
Review at Book Journey
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Wednesday, January 16
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Thursday, January 17
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Friday, January 18
Review at Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews

Monday, January 21
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Tuesday, January 22
Review at The Bookworm

Wednesday, January 23
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Thursday, January 24
Review at Book Dilettante
Review at Confessions of an Avid Reader

Friday, January 25
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Monday, January 28
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Tuesday, January 29
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Wednesday, January 30
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Friday, February 1
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