Review: Cress by Marissa Meyer

Friday, January 31, 2014
Title: Cress
Author: Marissa Meyer
Genre: young adult, retellings, science fiction, mythic fiction
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #3
Pages: 560 (ARC edition)
Published: February 4 2014
Source: ARC from Macmillan
Rating: 5/5

Rapunzel’s tower is a satellite. She can’t let down her hair—or her guard.

In this third book in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army.

Their best hope lies with Cress, who has been trapped on a satellite since childhood with only her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker—unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.

When a daring rescue goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing stop her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only ones who can.

Cress is another one of those books; the ones that demand to be talked about IN CAPS when you read them. The ones that result in flails and feels and gifs and exclamatory declarations of This Book Broke My Brain Syndrome. (As Bekka from Great Imaginations said: "Such wow. Very good. Much book. Thorne. Go buy.") Cress is a book that reaches out from the page and grabs your attention, and despite that 560 page length never lets go of your imagination. Even when you know the basics of the story being told, it cannot and will not be ignored. Under Marissa Meyer's skilled pen and ever-growing talent, the latest installment in the Lunar Chronicles is the best of them all. 

There's a lot to enjoy about every subsequent novel in Meyer's reinterpreted fairytale series. First, foremost and my favorite: there's the diverse core cast of strong, different, interesting female characters to pick favorites from among. There's Cinder, adapting to a new role and wrestling with her past while trying to save her people and the man she loves, there's Scarlet and her badassery and her mysterious past and her conflicting feelings about love, and finally Meyer introduces the character of Cress, who is a wholly different kind of brave but who manages to be silly and smart, goofy and loyal. No matter which girl ends up resonating with the reader more, it's hard not to like every lead Meyer has crafted. They feel real and you care about what happens to each of them. Cress is no different in that she is defined, flawed, and wholly her own person. Though both Cinder and Scarlet have their own, rather more minor storylines here in the third book, it's the newcomer's story that really stands out above the rest.

In addition, the romances are swoony, no matter which ship(s) you decide to board. As a group, the male leads are well-drawn and interesting on a sliding scale (with Thorne being the most interesting and complex and Wolf the least, with Kai solidly in the middle), but I can't deny I ship each with a respective female counterpart. I liked the development that Thorne underwent especially -- it was an atypical plot/character progression for a YA male love interest while still being completely in tune with the original Rapunzel myth. Meyer keeps an even hand on the various romances being developed versus actual plot progression; applying just enough of the former to help speed along the latter. Fan (and one of my personal) favorite Iko is back, too, and Meyer tosses her some of the best lines and moments in the book. Though Cress isn't afraid to go a bit dark, there are some genuine lighter moments that made me smile at my book all the while fearing for how it would all play out.

As a small aside that must be noted: Not since Roar and Aria have I enjoyed a friendship as much as I do the relationship between Cinder and Thorne. My ship for love for him is with another character, but as friends those two are both refreshing and fun. They're great foils for one another and watching them play off one another and banter is always entertaining. Their scenes are literally my favorite. 

There are the multiple clever adaptations and homages to elements from each fairytale depicted, from Cinderella in Cinder to Rapunzel here in Cress. Without getting too spoilery, if you are familiar with how the non-Disney version of the story goes, some events in Cress won't be as surprising. However, don't ever make the mistake of thinking you can predict Marissa Meyer. No matter what, her books always find a way to pack a punch. She's clever and when events had me reeling, I couldn't help but admire her sangfroid and her plotting. There's action, adventure, and romance to be had here. There's unexpected twists. To be less vague would be to spoil the authorial sleight of hand that Meyer works hard to produce; I can't do that. So be warned that Cress is going after your emotions and it wants to break your brain.

Five hundred plus pages is a daunting task, but Cress doesn't ever feel like a chore. Even when the characters are involved in less than thrilling circumstances, Meyer's layered plot, multiple storylines and great characters keep the read entertaining. There are a lot of threads that have been set up over hundreds of pages and three novels that begin to come together in Cress. It's been a grand scheme from the start and the hints about the endgame and book four are tantalizing. Meyer has proven herself a master storyteller, one that has improved with each novel, and as a result Cress is her best work to date.

Book Tour Review: Ravenscliffe by JAne Sanderson

Thursday, January 30, 2014
Title: Ravenscliffe
Author: Jane Sanderson
Genre: historical fiction
Series: Eve Williams #2
Pages: 544
Published: January 28 2014
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
Rating: 3/5

Yorkshire, 1904. On Netherwood Common, Russian √©migr√© Anna Rabinovich shows her dear friend Eve Williams a gracious Victorian villa—Ravenscliffe—the house Anna wants them to live in. There's a garden and a yard and room enough for their children to play and grow.
Something about the house speaks to Anna, and you should listen to a house, she believes...Ravenscliffe holds the promise of happiness.

Across the square, Clarissa and her husband, the Earl of Netherwood, are preparing for King Edward's visit. Clarissa is determined to have everything in top shape at Netherwood Hall—in spite of the indolent heir to the estate, Tobias, and his American bride—and much of it depends on the work going on downstairs as the loyal servants strive to preserve the noble family's dignity and reputation.

As Anna restores Ravenscliffe to its full grandeur, she strikes up a relationship with hardworking Amos Sykes—who proposed to Eve just one year ago.

But when Eve's long-lost brother Silas turns up in their close-knit mining community, cracks begin to appear in even the strongest friendships.

As change comes to the small town and society at large, the residents of Netherwood must find their footing or lose their place altogether.

The second novel featuring (mostly) the same cast of characters in the same area of Yorkshire during the turn of the century, Ravenscliffe is a return to form for Jane Sanderson. Fans of Netherwood will find more to enjoy with the series' second outing, though it can also be read on its own merit as a standalone. It's a more than solid follow-up to a promising first novel, and will likely cement Sanderson's status as an author who can be counted on to create atmospheric reads peopled with lifelike characters.

The strength of both these books lie in the characters and their many, varied relationships with one another. They are the big draw when it comes to this series. As both the books have been mostly character-driven, rather than plot-driven, pieces, it pays to pay attention to who is who and how they relate to the other characters while reading Ravenscliffe. There are some new faces added to the cast for the sequel, but the best aspect is how real this community, as a whole, feels.  This has been advertised for fans of Downton Abbey (and I can't vouch for the accuracy of that) but I can tell you that if complex and difficult character relationships are your thing, Ravenscliffe has that in spades.

For all that both books (and an upcoming third) are billed as the Eve Williams' series, I find myself interested in the supporting/side/bit characters more than the supposed main one. For me, Anna Rabinovich, the Russiam emigre introduced midway through Netherwood has always been the real heart of the books. Henrietta, as well, deserves a mention for being a thoroughly engaging and interesting woman. It's both refreshing and just plain nice to see a novel that features so many strong, different kinds of women. I liked a lot of the male characters, but the women are definitely my favorites to read about.

I say this is character-driven (and it is) but that doesn't mean there's no plot to be found. There is and while it wasn't my favorite plot, the family dramas and the upstairs/downstairs tensions are handled well. They both form the main conflicts in the story, but it feels stretched when applied to nearly 550 pages of novel. The beginning, which takes a while to get moving, and middle suffer the most from the misguided plotting. There's just not enough plot to last the entire page-length. I did enjoy Ravenscliffe but it could stand to have several sections edited way, way down.

Edwardian Yorkshire might not be the most popular area for historical fiction, but Jane Sanderson has put her stamp on the era. Her characterization is strong, her atmosphere is all encompassing and her novels are dense historical stories. It might take a bit longer than you'd like to read it all, but Ravenscliffe has more than enough to recommend it for a read.

Book Tour Q&A with Elaine Neil Orr for A Different Sun

Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Elaine Neil Orr is the author of A Different Son, and Gods of Noonday (nonfiction). She stops by the blog today to talk about her newest historical fiction work.

In 1853, newly married Emma Bowman arrives in Afrida and steps into a world of unsurpassed beauty — and peril.

A page-turning adventure with life and death stakes for the body and the soul…

Born into a life of privilege in rural Georgia, Emma yearns for important work.  An ardent passion burns in her soul, spurring her beyond the narrow confines of her family’s slave-holding plantation.  She meets and weds Henry Bowman, a tremendously attractive former Texas Ranger twice her age, who has turned from the rifle to the cross.  Together with their dreams of serving God they take ship for West Africa.  Emma leaves every known thing behind, save a writing box Henry has made for her. In it she carries a red journal and an odd carving made by an old African owned by her father.

The couple’s intimate life has hardly begun when they are beset by illness, treacherous travel, an early pregnancy, a death.  Emma opens her heart to Africa, yet at every turn her faith is challenged.  In deep night, she turns to the odd carving for comfort and in snatches of calm makes record in her diary.  She redoubles her energies, even as she begins to doubt her husband’s sanity.  Yet she loves him.

When they hire Jacob, a native assistant to guide their caravan, Emma is confronted with her greatest challenge.  Henry’s health begins to fail, and she is drawn deeper into the African world.
Something is revealing itself to her.  But is it a haunting mystery from her past or a new revelation coming toward her out of this mysterious continent?

A compelling story of temptation, courage, faith, and the redemptive quality of love, both human and divine, A Different Sun will transport you to a world where tragedy and triumph lie a heartbeat away.

 Q&A with the author:

 #1. You cite the Bowens as the inspiration for this particular story -- was adapting their factual mission into fiction harder or easier than imagined?

A Different Sun is my first novel, published after writing a memoir. In a way it’s a little hard to know if writing a novel inspired by a diary is harder or easier than writing “out of thin air” so to speak. I do think that many novelists write out of an historical footnote. Toni Morrison’s Beloved was inspired by a newspaper story about a woman who killed her children rather than having them taken back in to slavery. Therese Fowler’s novel, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald is clearly inspired by an entire life. 
For me, I suspect, especially because I was writing my first book-length fiction, it was helpful to have the inspiration. I decided early on that most of the novel would cover the three years spanned by the actual diary, while the couple is in West Africa (current day Nigeria), making their way as early explorers and missionaries in what is for them both a tantalizing and punishing land. I knew who my primary characters were: husband and wife. And I knew from the start that I wanted to offer both points of view so that readers had access to why Henry is the way he is, as well as Emma. Of course I had to make much of that up!

The really fun parts were the “making up.” While I knew their first baby died, I had no idea what inspired Emma (my character, not the historical diarist) to become a missionary. I invented Uncle Eli. But I did research in order to do so. I wanted him to be historically based and plausible. Such slave artisans did live close to the master’s house, they were given better treatment, and when there was a “problem,” they could be punished just as harshly as any enslaved person. Jacob is also my invention, the African man Emma falls in love with. Most of the novel is invention, for example, Emma beginning to change her clothes from Victorian to more open, breezy, and African. I loved creating that metaphor for her coming of age and the opening of her moral consciousness.

#2. What was the most challenging aspect of writing A Different Sun? The easiest?

Everything was the most difficult. Well, one thing was relatively easy for me: describing the countryside. I was born and grew up in Nigeria. I know the hawks, the color of the sky, the feeling of heat, the sound of lizards on dry ground, the look of palm trees near a creek bed, the smell of fires burning, and the sound of drums beating through the night. Southeastern Nigeria was my cradle.

Everything else was a steep learning curve, from the mundane—how do you get characters in and out of a room?—to the vast and ultimate—how do you keep propelling the story so that the reader wants to keep reading. I sought out good readers, novelists who had published several books, to read for me. I had wonderful feedback from wonderful writers such as Sena Jeter Naslund, author of the best-selling Ahab’s Wife and Jill McCorkle, whose wonderful latest novel, Life After Life was published this year. My advice for any beginning novelist is to find good writers to work with and read read read. Read good books all the time!

#4. Did growing up in Nigeria have an affect on how the story was written/researched?

I was drawn to the story because it was about the missionaries who founded the very mission compound I was born on one hundred years later.

And I was delighted to travel back to Nigeria three times to trace my characters’ steps.But I don’t think it affected how I did my research. I’m a trained researcher who has written two scholarly books about American women writers. I LOVE research. It’s like looking for buried treasure. You can go an inch deep and strike gold. I’m writing a second novel set in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in the late 1950s. I’ll do research in the same way I did for A Different Sun, though at least it won’t be 1853 and I won’t have to figure out how to refer to underwear!

#5. Do you have a favorite scene from the book? As an author or as a reader?

Yes. I absolutely love the scene in which Emma draws Africa and America for the Iyalode out in the yard, using a stick. That scene came to me in a rush as I wrote. It hardly had to be revised. It’s a major turning point in the novel when Emma realizes the connection between the slave-owning South and her own mission to Nigeria.

#6. Do you see any of yourself in the characters -- Emma/Mittie Ann/Tela?

Oh yes, there’s a little of me in Emma. Though there is more of my mother, also a missionary. She, like Emma, is a pious person. She has a kind of faith I never understood but that I wanted to understand. A huge motivation for me in writing the novel was to try to understand religious faith. My part in Emma is her tomboyish girlhood, not being the pretty daughter but being the father’s companion, her determination and hard-headedness. And I’ll confess this too: falling in love with Jacob. I haven’t fallen in love with a Nigerian man (yet!) but when I visited Nigeria in 2003 for the first time in twenty years and I saw Nigerian men and how they walked—so straight and confident, in that billowing cloth—I thought: “Now there’s a man!” I suppose the image of those men from my childhood came back to me and that more flowing, powerful masculinity spoke to my core.

#7. Upon finishing your novel, what would you like readers to take away from it/think about?

What it means to live a conscious life. My entire purpose in Emma is to show the process of her coming of age, the way she comes to see her flaws even though her epiphany is painful. More than that, she comes to see that her privileged life came at a cost to someone else—to an entire sub-continent. More than any time in the history of humanity, now is the time we must acknowledge that any of us who has more than we need is probably taking from someone else who doesn’t have enough.

I just want to thank Elaine for taking the time to stop by today.

Praise for A Different Sun

Library Journal STARRED Review: Verdict Lush, evocative, breathtaking in its descriptions, and deeply spiritual in its themes of love, forgiveness, and transformation, this extraordinary novel shines with light and depth. Reminiscent of Barbara Kingsolver’s magnum opus, The Poisonwood Bible, with elements of Joseph Conrad and Louise Erdrich, Orr’s stunning debut is starkly beautiful and true to life.
“A magnificent novel that explores the charged juncture between nineteenth-century Africa and the slaveholding South. This is the spellbinding, richly imagined story. –Angela Davis-Gardner, author of Plum Wine and Butterfly’s Child

“A beautiful novel, exquisitely written, perfectly complex, true to the past, relevant today, unforgettable.” –Philip F. Deaver, author of Silent Retreats, winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award
“From frontier Georgia to tropical Africa, a dazzling tale of love, cruelty, and redemption,” –Tony Pederson, former executie editor of The Houston Chronicle

“A Cathartic Epic filled with physical and intellectual adventure bordered by psychological drama.  It is difficult to write fiction that is as fantastic as it is real.” –Linda Beattie, Louisville Courier-Journal
“As lyrical and passionate a novel as has ever been written.”  Lee Smith, NYT Best-Selling Author
“Language so fine, my breath went right out from me.”  Eleanor Morse, author of White Dog Fell from the Sky

A Different Sun is a Southern Indie Booksellers Association Best Seller.

About Elaine Neil Orr:

Elaine Orr

Elaine Neil Orr is a trans-Atlantic writer of fiction, memoir, and poetry.  Themes of home, country, and spiritual longing run through her writing.  A Different Sun: A Novel of Africa, her newest book (Berkley/Penguin, 2013), has been called by Lee Smith “as lyrical and passionate a novel as has ever been written.  [It] shines in the mind like a rare gem.”  Philip Deaver describes it as“[a] beautiful novel, exquisitely written, perfectly complex, true to the past, relevant today, unforgettable.”
Her memoir, Gods of Noonday (Virginia, 2003), was a Top-20 Book Sense selection and a nominee for the Old North State Award as well as a SIBA Book Award.  She is associate editor of a collection of essays on international childhoods, Writing Out of Limbo, and the author of two scholarly books.

Orr has published extensively in literary magazines including The Missouri Review, Blackbird, Shenandoah, and Image Journal.   Her short stories and short memoirs have won several Pushcart Prize nominations and competition prizes.  She has been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the North Carolina Arts Council, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

She was born in Nigeria to medical missionary parents and spent her growing-up years in the savannahs and rain forests of that country.  Her family remained in Nigeria during its civil war.  Orr left West Africa at age sixteen and attended college in Kentucky.  She studied creative writing and literature at the University of Louisville before taking her Ph.D. in Literature and Theology at Emory University.  She is an award-winning Professor of English at North Carolina State University and serves on the faculty of the brief-residency MFA in Writing Program at Spalding University.  She reads and lectures widely at universities and conferences from Atlanta to Austin to San Francisco to Vancouver to New York to Washington D.C., and in Nigeria.

Orr lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband, Anderson Orr.
Visit Elaine at her website and connect with her on Facebook.

Elaine’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, January 14th: Respiring Thoughts

Thursday, January 16th: Unabridged Chick

Monday, January 20th: Little Lovely Books

Tuesday, January 21st:  What She Read

Wednesday, January 22nd: Book Dilettante

Thursday, January 23rd: A Book Geek

Monday, January 27th: Books and Movies

Tuesday, January 28th: Bookie Wookie

Wednesday, January 29th: Ageless Pages Reviews (Q&A)

Monday, February 3rd: Lit and Life

Wednesday, February 5th:  Cold Read

Friday, February 7th: The Most Happy Reader

DNF Round Up for January

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Defy by Sara B. Larson - Defy #1 - ARC provided by publisher via NetGalley

DNF'd at: 53%

Boring and offensive in equal measures. Love triangle bullshit. Main character is a Super Special Soldier who will save the world. Predictable plotting. Uncomfortable descriptions of anyone non-white. A lot of white people running around in a jungle.

White Space by Ilsa J. Bick - Dark Passages #1 - ARC provided by publisher via edelweiss

DNF'd at: 6%

No quotation marks for identifying speech from thoughts/internal monologue. Extremely jumbled and confusing beginning. Too much information presented rapidly with little regard to helping the reader understand what anything actually means. Overwhelming and not in a good way.

I may try again later with a physical copy but the first 35 pages of this were a big

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Pretenders by Lisi Harrison - Pretenders #1 - ARC provided by publisher via NetGalley

DNF'd at: 32%

Utterly laughable and ridiculous. The narration style is jarring and doesn't work. The entire cast of characters are wildly inconsistent or totally unbelievable. I had heard the ending was a total cop-out so I checked that, too. It is. It's a nonending.

Book Tour Review: The Winter Siege by D.W. Bradbridge

Monday, January 27, 2014
Title: The Winter Siege
Author: D.W. Bradbridge
Genre: historical fiction
Series: Daniel Cheswis #1
Pages: 488
Published: September 2013
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 4/5

1643. The armies of King Charles I and Parliament clash in the streets and fields of England, threatening to tear the country apart, as winter closes in around the parliamentary stronghold of Nantwich. The royalists have pillaged the town before, and now, they are returning. But even with weeks to prepare before the Civil War is once more at its gates, that doesn’t mean the people of Nantwich are safe.

While the garrison of soldiers commanded by Colonel George Booth stand guard, the town’s residents wait, eyeing the outside world with unease, unaware that they face a deadly threat from within. Townspeople are being murdered – the red sashes of the royalists left on the bodies marking them as traitors to the parliamentary cause.

When the first dead man is found, his skull caved in with a rock, fingers start being pointed, and old hatreds rise to the surface. It falls to Constable Daniel Cheswis to contain the bloodshed, deputising his friend, Alexander Clowes, to help him in his investigations, carried out with the eyes of both armies on his back. And they are not the only ones watching him.

He is surrounded by enemies, and between preparing for the imminent battle, watching over his family, being reunited with his long-lost sweetheart, and trying, somehow, to stay in business, he barely has time to solve a murder.

With few clues and the constant distraction of war, can Cheswis protect the people of Nantwich? And which among them need protecting? Whether they are old friends or troubled family, in these treacherous times, everyone’s a traitor, in war, law, or love.
When the Winter Siege is through, who will be among the bodies?

It's a well-known fact that if you write and set your historical fiction in England, I am going to want to read it. Not knowing much else about The Winter Siege before going in, I was surprisingly and easily caught up in the author's version of 1640's Nantwich during a few pivotal weeks in the First English Civil War. Focusing on the rising tensions wrought by the the two sides in the Cheshire area (Royalists versus Parliamentarians), Bradbridge uses his fictionalized main character and investigator Daniel Cheswis to showcase the crucial events that occurred in those cold weeks surrounding the battle.

When I read a historical mystery, I am usually more drawn to the "historic" aspect. I never tire of reading about how people lived hundreds of years ago. And while I do enjoy a finely-wrought mystery, usually I am able to suss out the villain... which makes waiting for the main character to get there a bit of drag. But instead of reading like a hist fic with a mystery on the side, The Winter Siege is instead a convoluted, twisty mystery with a real sense of place and history. One that I could definitely not have figured out on my own. Red herrings, false clues abound to confuse and mislead our hero and the audience... this is an author that knows a mystery is all about careful planning and slow reveals.

As I am most at home with English history from about a hundred years before the start of this novel, I can't vouch for any level or degree of accuracy in the way the novel depicts the historical record. I can vouch for the fact that Bradbridge writes interesting characters, creates a encompassing atmosphere, and seems both passionate and knowledgeable about the time he is portraying. This is an another novel where reading the author's note at the end of the book really adds to my overall impression of the novel itself. I also liked that Bradbridge focused so closely on one town in this war. It was a far-reaching conflict across England, but watching it unfold in a microcosm was an effective narrative tool.

I say the characters are interesting, and they are. I liked the cast, I thought the villain has authentic agency and menace, Daniel is an nice mishmash of flaws and personality... but there could stand to be some more definition for the women in the novel. I wanted more from Alice, especially. I liked what the author did with her ambiguity/past with Daniel, but she had little personal presence. She was more of a reminder to Daniel of what he had lost than a viable woman. She felt like a possession, not a person.

That minor caveat aside, The Winter Siege has a lot to recommend it. The mystery was the element I enjoyed the most and I think it will go on to fool and mislead many others as they read along with Daniel to uncover who the murderer is. 

(Bonus: it's currently only $2.99 for ebook if you're interested!)

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Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Monday, January 13
Review at Flashlight Commentary

Tuesday, January 14
Interview & Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary

Wednesday, January 15
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee

Thursday, January 16
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Friday, January 17
Guest Post & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

Monday, January 20
Review at Closed the Cover

Tuesday, January 21
Giveaway at The Novel Life

Wednesday, January 22
Interview at Closed the Cover

Friday, January 24
Review at Griperang’s Bookmarks

Monday, January 27
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews

Tuesday, January 28
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book

Wednesday, January 29
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book

Thursday, January 30
Guest Post & Giveaway at To Read or Not to Read

Monday, February 3
Review at Confessions of an Avid Reader

Tuesday, February 4
Review at Book Nerd

Wednesday, February 5
Review at The Most Happy Reader

Friday, February 7
Giveaway at Bibliophilic Book Blog

Monday, February 10
Review at Reading the Ages

Tuesday, February 11
Review at Carole’s Ramblings

Thursday, February 13
Review at Just One More Chapter

Friday, February 14
Guest Post at HF Connection

Review: And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

Saturday, January 25, 2014
Title: And We Stay
Author: Jenny Hubbard
Genre: young adult, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 240
Published: expected January 28 2014
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3/5

When high school senior Paul Wagoner walks into his school library with a stolen gun, he threatens his girlfriend Emily Beam, then takes his own life. In the wake of the tragedy, an angry and guilt-ridden Emily is shipped off to boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she encounters a ghostly presence who shares her name. The spirit of Emily Dickinson and two quirky girls offer helping hands, but it is up to Emily to heal her own damaged self.

This inventive story, told in verse and in prose, paints the aftermath of tragedy as a landscape where there is good behind the bad, hope inside the despair, and springtime under the snow.

For the right kind of audience, And We Stay is going to be a book that really resonates emotionally. Unfortunately, due to several issues I had with the narrator's voice, I was not a part of that particular audience while reading Hubbard's sophomore novel. Even though I can't actively participate in the love for the story in And We Stay, I can absolutely vouch that Hubbard's prose is ethereal, lovely, and poignant. This is an author who is a genuine wordsmith; who knows how to create vibrant imagery without veering purple. However, main character Emily Beam just was too aloof and removed for me to connect with due to the third person present tense used throughout the novel.

Hubbard can write, and write well, but perhaps not as effectively as one would like. Third person is a notoriously hard perspective to pull off with pathos, and the present tense does Hubbard and Emily no favors either. Everything - from class schedules to what I imagine is heartfelt poetry - feels and reads the same in Emily's voice. She is dealing with incredible amounts of grief, but I heard none of it in her narration. It's far too impersonal and passive for me to really connect at all with the character. The flashbacks that deal with the day of/days leading up to Paul's death came the closest to resonating, but it's too little.  

There were a couple things that did stand out for me while reading (besides the prose itself.) The inclusion of Emily Dickinson as a role model/parallel for Emily Beam was interesting and fresh, the friendship between Emily and K.T. was healthy and realistic, and the smattering of feminism that cropped up every once in a while was light and subtle. 

The reviews for And We Stay are going to be all over the place. How much you will like it depends on how much pretty prose can make up for the lack of character investment or emotion. I know going into books about suicide and grief that I want to cry; I want to feel for these characters, to understand their pain and watch them recover. None of that happened here. Objectively, I could see the loveliness of the writing without feeling anything while reading it. And We Stay is a cold, uninviting book and while I can understand that could be a narrative choice used on purpose, or my own interpretation, my enjoyment was severely hampered by the arms' length the book kept me at for all 240 pages.

This is a book that I wanted to like more than I actually ended up liking, sadly. It's another case of "it's me, not you"  and I hope that the right audience does find their way to Hubbard's unusual mix of prose and verse.

Book Tour Review: Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb

Thursday, January 23, 2014
Title: Becoming Josephine
Author: Heather Webb
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Published: December 31 2013
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 4/5

Rose Tascher sails from her Martinique plantation to Paris to trade her Creole black magic culture for love and adventure. She arrives exultant to follow her dreams of attending Court with Alexandre, her elegant aristocrat and soldier husband. But Alexandre dashes her hopes and abandons her amid the tumult of the French Revolution.

Through her savoir faire, Rose secures her footing in high society, reveling in handsome men and glitzy balls—until the heads of her friends begin to roll.

After narrowly escaping death in the blood-drenched cells of Les Carmes prison, she reinvents herself as Josephine, a socialite of status and power. Yet her youth is fading, and Josephine must choose between a precarious independence and the love of an awkward suitor. Little does she know, he would become the most powerful man of his century- Napoleon Bonaparte.

Through thirty years and numerous personal transformations, Becoming Josephine chronicles the most pivotal years of the woman who was born on Martinique as Marie-Josephe-Rose de Tascher de La Pagerie de Beauharnias, but who would be most known as Napoleon Bonaparte's first wife, Empress Josephine of the French. Her story is an unlikely and captivating one, as was Josephine herself. Under Webb's capable pen, Rose/Josephine's story is both well-rendered and fresh, following closely her humble beginnings to her coronation to Empress.

Though Becoming Josephine is a work of historical fiction, Webb carefully balances the line between fiction and fact with aplomb. There is a lot of information freely available about large tracts of Josephine's life, which Webb skillfully folded into her version of the woman, but she also adapted and created life where little about her was known. All in all, with a mix of truth and invention, this Josephine reads and feels very real and authentic. Her personal struggles in life - for love, security, safety - are understandable, even while her star rises alongside her second husband's. Though the outcome of this story is known even before going into the novel, Webb makes the story immensely readable through the charisma of Josephine and her friends.

For a woman who is largely remembered as someone's wife, Josephine was a woman to be reckoned with on her own, before even meeting Le Petit Generale. Possessed of brains and beauty, Josephine's life before Napoleon is a whirl of affairs and salons, money and power. Though historically overshadowed by her conquering husband, she reigns over him in Becoming Josephine. Her wide circle of influence, her important contacts, and unassaiable charm smoothed many a path for him and helped him to reach the heights of France. They complimented each other well as a team, but as characters he is the less defined.  He is remote and unknowable, and the audience knows Rose to her bones. As shown by the author, Josephine was a smart and canny woman; one unafraid to use all her available assets.

For a debut historical fiction novel, or any historical fiction novel, Becoming Josephine is impressive. It's an involving and well-researched piece of fiction. It moves at a great pace, without lingering over long in certain times or skipping over others. Heather Webb has written an interesting story about an overlooked woman, and I was sorry to finish the novel.

Review: Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Title: Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings
Author: Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
Genre: nonfiction, history
Series: N/A
Pages: 288
Publication: November 19, 2013
Source: Publisher via Booklikes giveaway
Rating: 4/5

You think you know her story. You’ve read the Brothers Grimm, you’ve watched the Disney cartoons, you cheered as these virtuous women lived happily ever after. But the lives of real princesses couldn’t be more different. Sure, many were graceful and benevolent leaders—but just as many were ruthless in their quest for power, and all of them had skeletons rattling in their royal closets. Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe was a Nazi spy. Empress Elizabeth of the Austro-Hungarian empire slept wearing a mask of raw veal. Princess Olga of Kiev murdered thousands of men, and Princess Rani Lakshmibai waged war on the battlefield, charging into combat with her toddler son strapped to her back. Princesses Behaving Badly offers minibiographies of all these princesses and dozens more. It’s a fascinating read for history buffs, feminists, and anyone seeking a different kind of bedtime story.

Reviewed by Danielle

An absolutely fascinating collection of “royal” women, though the title is a serious misnomer. This book actually collects empresses, khans, ranis, commoners posing as royals, and yes, some princesses. Many of them didn’t behave badly, just differently from the cultural norms of the time, though some were certainly wicked, (there are sections for usurpers and schemers, along with the floozies, partiers, madwomen, warriors, and survivors.) Sections are arranged chronologically, with each chapter serving as a mini biography of an individual woman who fits the section header.

Especially in the first chapters, the book features a lot of lesser known stories, mostly centered around women of color. This was extremely exciting, though a little concerning that there weren’t many modern examples. My favorite was Empress Wu and the effects of the patriarchy and revisionist history on her legacy. (In a similar vein, I also enjoyed the dissection of Lucrezia Borgia as a victim of the patriarchy and not the “slutty poisoner” her family’s enemies have tried to paint her as.) Additionally, Malinche and Sarah Winnemucca’s stories are heartbreaking and worryingly similar, despite being “traitors” to their indigenous peoples more than 300 years apart.

Some of the stories are little more than retellings of folktales, owed to the lack of real information on the women, while others are richly detailed and studied. I wish my advanced copy had included the bibliography, because I’d really love to see the research that went into the assertion that Juana la Loca was actually quite sane. (Another victim of men’s desire to control her and her lands.)

The fake princesses were something I was only vaguely aware of, which made for great fun to study. I’m just old enough to remember the DNA test that proved Franziska Schanzkowska was not the Grand Duchess Anastasia. Her real story is far more interesting and sad than the Don Bluth movie makes it sound. Princess Caraboo was funny in an absurd, people-believed-this? kind of way, though of course it’s also sad that she felt the need to go to such lengths for a place to stay. The Persian mummy is horrifying and happened in entirely too modern an era.

Written in a conversational tone, the book is extremely readable and a lot of fun, but it’s obvious that the author doesn’t want to trade in idle gossip. There are no stories of Empresses and their horses, no perpetuating women bathing in blood, (though Elisabeth of Austria may have worn veal,) and it’s clear she doesn’t believe rumors of incest or witchcraft in the Tudor courts. Frankly, it’s the most balanced of the “royal scandals” genre that I’ve encountered.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Book Tour Review: Netherwood by Jane Sanderson

Title: Netherwood
Author: Jane Sanderson
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 464
Published: December 31 2013
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
Rating: 3/5

Eve Williams is about to discover just how the other half really live, in this epic and absorbing "big house" drama perfect for "Downton Abbey" fans

Above stairs, Lord Netherwood keeps his considerable fortune ticking over with the profits from his three coal mines in the vicinity. It's just as well the coal is of the highest quality, as the upkeep of Netherwood Hall, his splendid estate on the outskirts of town, does not come cheap. And that's not to mention the cost of keeping his wife and daughters in the latest fashions--and keeping the heir, the charming but feckless Tobias, out of trouble. Below stairs, Eve Williams is the wife of one of Lord Netherwood's most stalwart employees. When her ordered existence amid the terraced rows of the miners' houses is brought crashing down by the twin arrivals of tragedy and charity, Eve must look to her own self-sufficiency, and talent, to provide for her three young children. And it's then that "upstairs" and "downstairs" collide in truly dramatic fashion.

If you're a fan of Downton Abbey, Jane Sanderson's Netherwood is likely the perfect bookish companion for your upstairs/downstairs needs. It's a layered, detailed, informative look at both classes of English society in the early 1900s. I have never watched the show, but the tensions between the have and the have nots of the story was more than enough to pull me into Netherwood. It's a dense historical read and the sheer amount of detail may dissuade some readers, but it paints a very vivid picture of life for everyone.

Focusing on a small mining village of Netherwood that ekes out a living and the nobility, who own the mines, and live in excess, Sanderson's characters live in very different worlds. Eve, the main character from the village, is a smart, stubborn woman. She's smart, but lives in week-to-week security, based on her husband mining enough, the workers not striking, or a cave-in. From her lifestyle to her dialect (dropped aitches and all), she could not be more different than her Hoyland family counterparts. It's easier to sympathize and like Eve more than the others. Everything she has, she has worked hard for. Everyone she loves, she fights to protect. 

The sheer length of the novel is a double-edged sword. There is no doubt that Sanderson knows her era and has done her research, but this is a long book. 460 pages isn't huge, but when every page is filled with detail and information, it can be a long haul. The plot can feel a bit stretched, though the characters are able to keep their charm as long as needed. The characters really are the high point of the novel, and following them through their trials and tribulations are compelling.

For a book that is relatively unknown, I think a lot of historical fiction fans would appreciate Jane Sanderson's Netherwood. There's rich atmosphere, compelling characters, and an author who undoubtedly knows her stuff. It takes a commitment to see it all the way through, but this is an interesting novel.

Netherwood Tour Stops

Monday, January 13th: Mom in Love With Fiction
Tuesday, January 14th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Wednesday, January 15th: BookNAround
Thursday, January 16th: Drey’s Library
Monday, January 20th: She’s Good Books on Her Mind
Tuesday, January 21st: Ageless Pages Reviews
Wednesday, January 22nd: Bibliophilia, Please
Monday, January 27th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Monday, January 27th: Mel’s Shelves

Review: Her Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepherd

Sunday, January 19, 2014
Title: Her Dark Curiosity
Author: Megan Shepherd
Genre: young adult, retellings, horror
Series: The Madman's Daughter #2
Pages: 368
Published: expected January 28 2014
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 1.5/5

To defeat the darkness, she must first embrace it.

Months have passed since Juliet Moreau returned to civilization after escaping her father's island—and the secrets she left behind. Now, back in London once more, she is rebuilding the life she once knew and trying to forget Dr. Moreau’s horrific legacy—though someone, or something, hasn’t forgotten her.

As people close to Juliet fall victim one by one to a murderer who leaves a macabre calling card of three clawlike slashes, Juliet fears one of her father’s creations may have also escaped the island. She is determined to find the killer before Scotland Yard does, though it means awakening sides of herself she had thought long banished, and facing loves from her past she never expected to see again.

As Juliet strives to stop a killer while searching for a serum to cure her own worsening illness, she finds herself once more in the midst of a world of scandal and danger. Her heart torn in two, past bubbling to the surface, life threatened by an obsessive killer—Juliet will be lucky to escape alive.

With inspiration from Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this is a tantalizing mystery about the hidden natures of those we love and how far we’ll go to save them from themselves.

Now you'll notice this is a review for the second book and I've never really reviewed or talked about the first in the series, The Madman's Daughter. (This gif dump of reactions clearly doesn't count.) And that's because this series is so utterly wasted. Both books have been nothing but a disappointment for me. A horror-filled, snore-inducing waste of time and effort. All the potential for plot and creativity was and is still ignored for mundanity; almost all fun erased by the tedious characters as they go through the motions of their hackneyed love triangle the plot.

Despite my overall antipathy for the story overall, I have to admit that The Madman's Daughter had a few things going for it. Main character and narrator Juliet had more than a few moments to shine, there were several fun and unpredicted twists, the writing was strong and often pretty (without veering purple), and the adaptation angle felt natural and not at all forced. I mention this because Her Dark Curiosity possess almost none of those qualities, and even manages to ruin a few from its predecessor through some terrible plot twists that tie back to events in book one.

Book two starts off six months after the end of the first and features Juliet dealing with a lot of grief and guilt (notice on the cover she is in black when she was dressed in white before?) from the revelations of the island--- not only was she the inspiration for his "work" but she is a murderer, and a patricide at that. In addition, she must dealing with Montgomery's "betrayal" and "the Wolf of Whitechapel" (the book's Jekyll ["Jakyll"]/Hyde character), a vicious killer with has a special connection to her. 

That all sounds interesting and actiontastic, right? Crazy and creepy and fun to read. Too bad Her Dark Curiosity ignores all possibility that for waaaaangst and gross romances.

I do like Juliet, but I hate how any relationship she has is based on attraction. Her two main conversants - besides those not human or not directly related to her - are her love interests. She has one friend, who is made of cardboard and used for plot reasons. She...likes science? And Montgomery? There's not a lot to grab onto, personality-wise.  And this is the best character of the bunch. If I can't invest overmuch in the characters, I need the plot to be spectacular enough to make up for the charisma lack. With this book, I can't get attached to any characters (exception: Sharkey), and I DESPISE how the plot was adapted to focus more on Juliet's lovelife. It's an almost complete wash.

I can't even call Her Dark Curiosity a disappointment, really. I expected little and that was what I got, in the end. Even the writing, though still strong and visual, is less impressive the second-time around. Shepherd can certainly write, but I am less convinced about her plotting skills. I am fast losing patience with these books and no matter finely-worded the boring, that's not enough to keep me reading for very long. This book, like The Madman's Daughter before it, could be so much better..... if not for the love-triangle black hole sucking out all the life from the story.

The book ends much like the first did, but I am not doing this twice. Fool me twice and all that jazz. There are some pretty obvious ploys to get readers on board with a book three of this series (with the retelling/adaptation yet to be named), but it's weak and transparent. There is little to recommend this book/series and the TL;DR version is: I don't.
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