Friday, August 30, 2013

Weekend reads and not feeling well...

Ugh, I'm totally Eeyore this month! 

Struggling with a migraine this morning and the lingering head cold from last week -- am snotty and achy and very, very cranky.  I can't even focus enough to read!

I'm slowly reading The Serpent and the Pearl by Kate Quinn and The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon.  (They're artfully propped up on flowers my wife bought me to cheer me up.  She's a good one!)

What are you reading this weekend?  For those who have Monday off, any exciting plans?

Monday, August 26, 2013

In Defense of the Queen by Michelle Diener

Title: In Defense of the Queen
Author: Michelle Diener

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 16th Century / Tudor / Court Intrigue / Royal Painter / Assassination)
Publisher/Publication Date: Michelle Diener (8/1/2013)
Source: NetGalley

Rating: Loved.
Did I finish?: I did, in a matter of hours.
One-sentence summary: Henry VIII's painter and her fiance once more become embroiled in a dangerous plot that threatens their lives as well as that of the royal heirs.
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Eh, I don't have any strong feelings one way or the other.

I'm reminded of...: Jeanne Kalogridis

First line: The houses in Lombard Street leant against each other like a crowd of drunks, propping each other up.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if you like Tudor-era hist fic, unique heroines, and/or

Why did I get this book?: I loved Daughter of the Sky.

Review: I'm pretty much a die-hard Diener fan now -- she made me inhale (and love), three Tudor-era hist fics! After being blown away by Daughter of the Sky, her historical novel set in 19th century South Africa, I agreed to review this one despite my finickiness about Tudor historical novels.  I was lured by her appealing heroine, a painter at Henry VIII's court.

On a whim, I picked up the first two books in the series, In a Treacherous Court and Keeper of the King's Secrets, despite my enormous review queue, and I inhaled both by Saturday before starting this one. This one, hands down, is my favorite of the series so far, which like the other books is brisk, action-filled, slightly romantic/sexy, and intriguing.

I apologize now for the awkward review: writing something sensible about a book I'm mostly arm-waving about is hard! Plus, I'm still caught up in all three books and I really just want to shove them at everyone.

Our heroine, Susanna Horenbout, is a Belgian (Flemish) artist, sent by her father to work in Henry VIII's court. From the moment she stepped foot in the UK, her life has been filled with intrigue and danger, but she has found protection (and love) with one of Henry's low born courtiers, John Parker.

This book starts a mere few months after the end of the second book, with the arrival of Lucas, Susanna's brother, in London. While Susanna has started illuminations and portraits for Henry and his court, Lucas assumes he will take on the responsibility of his family's commission, much to Susanna's bitterness. But Lucas' arrival is not for work, she quickly learns, as he forces on her a secret letter to Queen Catherine that embroils her in unwelcome intrigue. At the same time, her betrothed's advancement at court has rankled both strong courtiers and Cardinal Wolsey, and her brother's machinations lead her to be imprisoned on charges of treason.

Both Susanna and Parker are historical figures from Henry VIII's court, although little is known about them particularly. But Susanna was a painter, and Parker was Henry's Yeoman of the Crossbows, and they really did marry. I'm completely in love with Susanna, who is a wonderfully competent heroine -- pragmatic, calm, and savvy -- and she makes the series for me. Despite the possibly over-the-top intrigue and drama, her realistic responses to the danger and excitement keep the story grounded for me.

While this book is very readable as a standalone, I think there's a huge emotional payoff by reading the first two books. They're brisk and fun and set up both Susanna and Parker's relationship, their relationship with Henry and his court, and explain why the villains in this book are so determined to get them. I believe this is a self-published sequel (the previous two novels were published by Gallery), and having read them all back-to-back, I had no idea this one wasn't traditionally published.

Tudor fans will want to get this series as well as those who want a 'lighter' historical novel that doesn't stint on historical detail or fascinating characters. (I am, needless to say, dying for another book with them!)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Mailbox Monday, August 26

Mailbox Monday is hosted in August by Kathy of Bermudaonion. To learn about any book, click the cover -- it'll open to the GoodReads page in a new tab/window.

Just a few arrivals this week -- mostly e-books -- but I'm excited to dig in!  What did you get this week?

For Review







Saturday, August 24, 2013

Winner!

More gorgeous summer outside, and I'm feeling well enough to sun myself -- so well, I gave myself a sunburn yesterday! Oops! (My book was good!)

One giveaway winner this week!

The winner of Mystery Girl is ... Susan T.!

Congrats to the winner! If you didn't win, be sure to check out my open giveaways -- lots of good stuff, and more coming this week! Hope everyone is having a great Saturday!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Weekend reads and I'm very fancy...

I have had the worst cold.  I still have it.  It's horrible.  I've become a mouth breather!

This weekend, starting now, I plan to finish up Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow, the second book in Juliet Grey's trilogy about Marie Antoinette, and start on the final book, Confessions of Marie Antoinette.

Pictured with those books is my drink (addiction) of the moment, Fentimans Rose Lemonade.  It's sour, sweet, a tiny bit floral, and carbonated.  While I've been home and feeling pathetic, I've been drinking it out of champagne flutes like I'm a fancy woman of leisure and not an unceasing snot factory.  Plus, sweet floral-y pink carbonated beverages seem especially suited for books about Marie Antoinette, right?

What are you reading this weekend?


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Where They Bury You by Steven W. Kohlhagen

Title: Where They Bury You
Author: Steven W. Kohlhagen

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1860s / New Mexico / Civil War / Native Americans / Kit Carson / Historical Figures Fictionalized / Con Artists / Theft)
Publisher/Publication Date: Sunstone Press (9/2/2013)
Source: JKS Communications

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did -- raced through it!
One-sentence summary: A handful of gamblers try to make a big score in 1860s New Mexico and Arizona, at a time when the region is torn up with conflict and war.
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: You know what? I do. I thought I didn't, but when I viewed the image full size, the textured background, the 'Western' font, and the silhouettes actually appeal to me.

First line: I'll be damned.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if you like Westerns, the Southwest as a setting, or want a look at a wild and tempestuous time in US history.

Why did I get this book?: I've always been a bit curious about Kit Carson and that whole world of the Wild West.

Review: While Westerns and cowboys-and-Indians stories are not genres I'm drawn to, I am interested in the history of the western US in the 19th century. I lived in South Dakota during the filming of more than one cowboys-and-Indians movie (including Dances with Wolves), which provoked conversations about how we view that time and talk about the people, decisions, and events that unfolded. As a result, when I read book set during this era, I want a more nuanced look at the circumstances and people.

Happily, I got that, and more, in this book.

I was intrigued by this novel for the historical mystery offered: in 1863, the US Marshal in Santa Fe was killed during a skirmish with the Navajo, with what would be almost a million dollars today on his person. While Kit Carson and the official record says nothing else about this incident or the money, Kohlhagen was curious about the 'real' story.

I anticipated a historical thriller with more conspiracy elements, a la Timothy O'Brien's The Lincoln Conspiracy, but this is actually a rather robust and detailed historical novel of Civil War-era New Mexico and Arizona, and the tenuous, complicated relationship between the white Americans, the various Native American tribes, and the Mexicans in the area.

I don't think I can succinctly summarize the plot, which seems rather complicated, but in Kohlhagen's hands, unfolds neatly. Covering about two years (1861 through 1863), the novel opens with a oh-god-please-don't-be-so-dumb incident (which is historical) that sets off the violent and tragic turn of events. In Arizona, a green Army officer starts a war with the Apache when he accuses their chief, Cochise, of kidnapping a rancher's child and holds Cochise's family as hostage. While that trouble boils down south, in Santa Fe, a group of gamblers fleeing their pasts (either in California or out East), come together and form a plot to get rich. The tensions in the US over the Lincoln presidency, the succession of states in the south, and the question of slavery touch New Mexico and Arizona as well.

Kohlhagen's writing was very approachable, which I appreciated, since I tend to get glazed eye over army and/or battle scenes, and he balances the big conflict (wars) with the smaller one (the con). I found I 'knew' the characters, which was quite a feat given the cast! (It didn't hurt that Kohlhagen includes a list of who's who at the start and separates the two -- thankfully -- so I didn't spend hours googling Lily Smoot, his fictional gambler mastermind.) Kohlhagen manages to avoid the info dump, although now and then there's a rare narrative hiccup that sticks out (when he introduces Kit Carson to the story, for example, he mentions Carson is 'the most famous of the early 19th Century explorers, trappers, scouts, adventurers, and Indian fighters', which is probably true, but feels odd as it doesn't fit the style Kohlhagen used up to that point.). Otherwise, I liked the writing, which was short, immediate, and punchy.

A very quick read (it has about 312 pages), this book surprised me in the best way. Great historical details and a breakneck plot, it's a great read. For those who might not be immediately drawn to this era, consider this book as an intro -- lots of drama, mood, ambiance, and a tough female heroine to keep one hooked.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a paperback copy of Where They Bury You to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only, ends 9/6.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

League of Somebodies by Samuel Sattin

Title: League of Somebodies
Author: Samuel Sattin

Genre: Fiction (1960s / 1970s / Contemporary / Superheroes / Fathers and Sons / Dysfunctional Families)
Publisher/Publication Date: Dark Coast Press (4/9/2013)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Okay.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: A family's obsession with raising superheroes results in damaged fathers, frightened sons, and fraught marriages.

Do I like the cover?: I love it -- bright, bombastic, kind of mesmerising -- and lions do feature in the story.

I'm reminded of...: Michael Chabon, Gary Shteyngart

First line: As a dying man, Lenard Sikophsky would often look back upon the night when he was a child, and his father, Fearghas Murdoch Sikophsky -- the first generation of Scottish/Jewish/Polish (with a lower case 'p') emigres pilgrimming into America by briny way of the Massachusetts coast -- stuffed a sponge soaked with chloroform between his lips, wrapped a sash around his eyes, and got ready to introduce him to a concept he called manhood by way of a speeding train.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: I could not say.

Why did I get this book?: I'm interested in the 'real world' origins of superheroes.

Review: I'm all over the map on this book. An over-the-top look at fathers and sons, Sattin's novel was blackly hilarious and a bit overwrought.

Stylistical, I was reminded of Michael Chabon and Gary Shteyngart (with a little visual and linguistic nods to Guy Ritchie), the novel follows Lenard Sikophsky/Lantana Zatkin, a Scottish/Jewish man from Boston whose father is convinced he needs to raise a superhero.

Lenard's great-grandfather wrote a book, The Manaton, about ascending into Manhood (which included, in his eyes, a correct cosmology of men-lions-god-everything else and open misogyny) which Lenard's father wholly embraces. There's an arch-villainous organization, THEY, who wants the Manaton, according to Lenard's father

To urge Lenard's development, his father fed him plutonium since he was a child, which physically morphed and changed him (whether into a superhero is debatable). The Manaton has little use for women, so a beautiful local Jewish girl is bartered to be Lenard's mate, but thankfully, Lenard loves her anyway (and she seems to like him). But things get more complicated when Lenard decides to follow the Manaton as he raises his own child.

At the start, watching Lenard struggle through the insanity of his father (which consisted of physical and mental abuse of varying degrees), I was there. It was campy and over-the-top, dark and funny, and very twisted. But things fell a part for me when watching Lenard attempt the same with his son. What felt vaguely possible in the 1960s seems down right abusive in 2006 and I had to remind myself more that this was a campy sort of send up. (Plus, the female characters were just, ugh.)

Sattin's writing style took some getting used to: ornate, fussy, complicated, it was as grandiose as the Sikophsky's delusions, and it made the novel for me. (Usually -- there were moments when I wondered what had happened and I was too impatient to reread once more.)

I can't say how I feel on finishing. It provoked and annoyed me the way Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story did and for the right kind of reader -- fans of Chabon, I think -- this might be a win.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Song of the River by Sue Harrison

Title: Song of the River
Author: Sue Harrison

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 6th millennium BC / Alaska / Native Americans / Prehistoric / Tribal Life / Revenge / Intrigue)
Publisher/Publication Date: Open Road Media (5/28/2013)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Rating: Liked a good deal.
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: The saga of a young storyteller in 6th millennium BC on a journey to make peace between two tribes and
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I adore it. Uh-dore. I love the color, the layout, the fact that the model doesn't appear to be a white woman...!

First line: The pain had been terrible, but that was not what K'os remembered.

Do... I love this interview with the author by blogger Erin of Oh, for the HOOK of a BOOK!?: YES. I'm always a fan of book geeks losing it over their favorite authors and I really enjoyed the conversation -- especially the tidbit that Harrison almost gave up on her first manuscript when Jean Auel's book came out.

Did... I enjoy this video profile on the author?: YES. Her home and landscape are gorgeous, but hello, that typewriter?! Filled with want.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- it's about $6, is over 500 pages, and is full of Shakespearean tragedy and drama, evocative landscapes,

Why did I get this book?: I love Open Road Media's re-releases and was curious about Harrison's novels.

Review: I have never really gotten into cave people historical fiction. Despite my love for the HF genre, and despite my majoring in Anthropology as an undergrad, I just have never been that drawn to prehistoric heroines. I suppose I've always suspected it would feel false: I'm impatient enough with Regency heroines being modern, so I'd inevitably hate my cave heroine, right?

Yeah, no. (And mostly because this book has a cave hero, not heroine, but even then, there was nothing for me to hate in this book!)

Set in 6th millennium BC in the southeastern part of Alaska, Harrison's novel opens brutally: K'os, a young girl, is assaulted by men of her tribe, and revenge and malice bury themselves in her. Days later, K'os finds an abandoned baby, perfect save for one malformed foot, and raises him. Chakliux, now grown up, is a gifted storyteller, rumored to be an animal-gift from the gods, part otter. His arranged marriage to a beautiful girl from another tribe is meant to cement peace between the two peoples, but in Shakespearean fashion, things shake out quite differently. By page 50, there have been murders, a family secret revealed, and inter-tribal treachery.

While Chakliux is one of the central characters to the story, there's actually a half dozen other players shaping the narrative, members of two tribes struggling to survive in the harsh Alaskan world, the balance of peace or war teetering. Against that great pressure is the more mundane challenges these tribes face: the fight for resources, tribal cohesion, desire for things versus real need (this mostly shakes out in terms of romantic/sexual partnerships -- everyone is yearning for someone else!).

In many ways, I reminded of Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd, which featured the many perilous ways sheep could die (among other plot dramas), and Harrison doesn't stint on the harsh details -- there's no romantic view of indigenous people here. The feel of the story is very family saga-ish, and I think those who enjoy that kind of sweeping narrative will like this one. There's a rather bittersweet end to the novel, more bitter than sweet, and I'm dying for the second book.

Despite the length (over 480 pages!), I found the narrative raced; even with the large-ish cast, I was able to keep everyone straight with a few quick notes (remembering who was married to whom, that kind of thing). This e-book has great extras: an Author's Notes which includes some information about her language choices and use of Native American words in the story; a 4-page glossary of Native American words; a map; and a 4-page Pharmacognosia, an annotated list of the plants mentioned in the novel.

Another great re-release by Open Road Media, and I'm looking forward to digging into the rest of Harrison's novels. Those who like Jean Auel's series might want to start this one as well as anyone who likes unusual historical fiction -- this is a place and era you don't often see!

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to be able to offer e-book copies of both Song of the River and Mother Earth Father Sky to one lucky reader!

To enter, fill out this brief form.  Open to US and international readers, ends 9/6.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Belle Noir by Ava Zavora

Title: Belle Noir
Author: Ava Zavora

Genre: Fiction (Short Stories / Fairy Tales / Romantic Relationships / Retellings / Coming of Age / Self Discovery / Fathers-Daughter Relationships)
Publisher/Publication Date: CreateSpace (6/1/2013)
Source: The author.

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: Five short stories inspired by fairy tales and magic, set in a variety of universes with a different twist to each story.
Reading Challenges: E-book

Do I like the cover?: I do, a bit (although I feel like it also could be a romance or paranormal cover).  It hints at one of the stories, 'Grotesque', really well!

I'm reminded of...: Mary Robinette Kowal

First line: Some curses fade and leave nothing but the faintest mark, a tea stain on watered silk., from 'Transfigured'

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy (especially as it is $1.99 on Amazon).

Why did I get this book?: I love fairy tale retellings!

Review: This slender collection of five short stories is familiar (three of the five stories were inspired by Beauty and the Beast) and darkly bittersweet. More in the Grimm vein (pun!) than Disney, Zavora leaves the reader feeling uneasy and discomforted -- which is a surprisingly fun state to be in!

Each story lingered with me and, frankly, got under my skin (although I will say, the titular story 'Belle Noir' is the one I really can't shake!). The opening story, 'Transfigured', is the most fairy tale-ish in nature while 'No Loyal Knight and True' has the opening of a crime thriller but takes a delightful direction toward Lady of Shallot. 'Belle Noir' is just straight up creepy while 'Grotesque' -- the only story not specifically based on a fairy tale, I believe -- is moody and modern. 'Mirabilis' is more of a fantasy, but I was immediately captivated by the world Zavora wrought and I would love a novel about this place/our heroine.  The volume closes with a copy of Tennyson's poem, 'The Lady of Shalott'.  Zavora includes an 'Afterword' where she talks about some aspect of each story -- a rather fun inclusion I wouldn't mind in every volume of short stories I read!  (For those who love geeky extras, Zavora has a video playlist for each of her stories!)

While the book blurb has an 18+ 'mature' warning in it, there's nothing particularly 'adult' in the stories, and I had to wrack my brain for what might be construed as 'mature'. There are two moments, perhaps, in different stories, that are vaguely disturbing, but no more so than anything you'd find in any other novel. And it's a brief allusion, nothing graphic, so don't let the warning scare you off. This isn't erotica or even sexytimes.  

Dark, punchy, and fun, Belle Noir is perfect for when you're in the mood for a beach read that isn't cheery. Those of you who want something dark and fast for either RIP or Dewey's Readathon in October, consider this collection.  And of course, if you like fairy tales retold, give these a try.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer an e-book copy of Belle Noir to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers, ends 9/6.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Mailbox Monday, August 19

It's been about a month since my last Mailbox Monday, and I've gotten some uh-mah-zing arrivals. 

I'm pathetic sick today so I've mostly had the books swimming around me on the bed because, hello, better than chicken soup for perking me up, I say!

Mailbox Monday is hosted in August by Kathy of Bermudaonion. To learn about any book, click the cover -- it'll open to the GoodReads page in a new tab/window.

What did you get this week (or, this month!)? Read any of these?

For Review































Won



Thanks to Enchanted by Josephine!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Winners!

It's a stunning, staggeringly gorgeous weekend in Boston and I am sick like a sick thing!  It's the worst: I feel too sick to even sit and read!

The winner of Inheritance is ... Tiffany C-K.!

Last week's winner of the paperback copy of A White Room didn't respond, so I've redrawn: Col of Col Reads!

Congrats to the winners!  Be sure to check out my open giveaways -- there are more coming, as always.  Hope you all are having a great weekend!