Friday, August 29, 2014

Stolen Remains by Christine Trent

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Historical Novel Review
Read: May 15, 2014

After establishing her reputation as one of London's most highly regarded undertakers, Violet Harper decided to take her practice to the wilds of the American West. But when her mother falls ill, Violet and her husband Samuel are summoned back to England, where her skills are as sought-after as ever. She's honored to undertake the funeral of Anthony Fairmont, the Viscount Raybourn, a close friend of Queen Victoria's who died in suspicious circumstances--but it's difficult to perform her services when his body disappears. . . As the viscount's undertaker, all eyes are on Violet as the Fairmonts and Scotland Yard begin the search for his earthly remains. Forced to exhume her latent talents as a sleuth to preserve her good name, Violet's own investigation takes her from servants' quarters, to the halls of Windsor Castle, to the tombs of ancient Egypt--and the Fairmont family's secrets quickly begin to unravel like a mummy's wrappings. But the closer Violet gets to the truth, the closer she gets becoming the next missing body... Wrought with both heartfelt bravery and breathtaking suspense, Stolen Remains is a captivating tale of death and deception set against the indelible backdrop of Victorian London.

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Christine Trent's Stolen Remains, the sequel to Lady of Ashes, left me in mind of A Royal Likeness and that isn't a good thing. Unlike most of Trent's readers, I found her first sequel lacked the appeal of its predecessor and here again, I feel the story failed to replicate the magic of the original publication.

Lady of Ashes struck me for a couple of reasons, the first among them being the detailed insight the story gave to the undertaker's profession. Unfortunately this element all but disappears in Stolen Remains. Have no fear, Violet is still practicing, but I was very disappointed at Trent's decision to downplay the details of her craft in favor of the mystery at hand.

On that note, I also failed to see the entertainment value in Trent's whodunit. Call me crazy, but the whole thing seemed way too coincidental. Violet just happens to be in London, just happens to have her supplies, Queen Victoria just happens to renew their far-fetched association... Give me a break. 

Already frustrated with the direction and tone of the piece, Trent's self-promotional nod to her earlier novels annoyed me even further. The Laurent Doll Shop isn't essential to this series and the fact that scenes continue to take place here comes off as both amateurish and awkward.

There is a lot of buzz regarding the impending publication of A Virtuous Death and The Mourning Bells, but can't say I'm among those dying to get my hands on either tome.

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“Yes. It has come to our attention that Anthony Fairmont, the Viscount Raybourn, has just died. Perhaps a suicide, but quite possibly murdered, at his townhome in Mayfair."
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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Gods of Gold by Chris Nickson

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: August 28, 2014

June 1890. Leeds is close to breaking point. The gas workers are on strike. Supplies are dangerously low. Factories and businesses are closing; the lamps are going unlit at night. Detective Inspector Tom Harper has more urgent matters on his mind. The beat constable claims eight-year-old Martha Parkinson has disappeared. Her father insists she s visiting an aunt in Halifax but Harper doesn't believe him. When Col Parkinson is found dead the following morning, the case takes on an increasing desperation. But then Harper s search for Martha is interrupted by the murder of a replacement gas worker, stabbed to death outside the Town Hall while surrounded by a hostile mob. Pushed to find a quick solution, Harper discovers that there s more to this killing than meets the eye and that there may be a connection to Martha s disappearance.

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By all appearances, Chris Nickson's Gods of Gold looked to be a slam dunk. Gorgeous cover art aside, the jacket description gave me the sort of thrill I get watching Ripper Street and that's never a bad thing in my book. Unfortunately, reality failed to meet expectation and I can't say I was particularly impressed with the title. 

For the record I liked the story. Martha's disappearance paired with Leeds' 1890 gas strike made an interesting combination of subject matter and drama. Of the cast, I found Annabelle Atkinson most amusing, but the novel's lead, Detective Inspector Tom Harper, was far too straight-laced and virtuous for my taste. 

Most of my difficulties, however, stem from the writing style and an overall lack of depth. The characters are too straightforward, the plot elementary and the dialogue wooden. I liked the idea and what Nickson was attempting to do with the story, but the telling simply didn't work for me.

Not a complete wash, but Gods of Gold is definitely a title I'd be hard-pressed to recommend.  

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"What do you think he did with her?"
Harper waited. He hadn't said it, didn't want to say it, but knew it needed to be out in the open. 
"I think he sold her."
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Ismeni: A Prelude to The Legend of Sheba by Tosca Lee

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read:  August 27, 2014

A mysterious beauty, a destiny set in the stars. Born under an inauspicious sign, young Ismeni is feared by her own people. The single thing she prays for: to live an invisible life. But that is not to be for the young woman who has captured the attention of the king's youngest son. A story of love, passion, and twists of fate through the eyes of the woman who will one day give birth to the legendary Queen of Sheba.

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Why am I only now discovering Tosca Lee? It's a short, but Ismeni: A Prelude to The Legend of Sheba is absolutely fabulous and I can't for the life of me understand how I've not encountered this author before. 

The situational drama is believable despite the brevity of the piece and I couldn't help falling in love with Lee's heroine. I admit the plot leans toward the predictable, but the style and language in which it is written is flawlessly addictive. 

I'm not usually one to promote promotional freebies, but in this case I'm willing to make an exception. Ismeni is a delightful diversionary read that left me dying to get my hands on The Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen.

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My mother argued my innocence against the tribal elders, who, I am told, craned to peer at my face even as she tried to shield it with her hands so they might not call such loveliness in a child unnatural . But men are easily swayed by fear. And so I grew up with the burden of a beauty that cannot be celebrated because of its potential, at any moment, to kill.
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Shakespeare's Dark Lady: The Lost Story of Aemilia Bassano Lanyer by Sally O'Reilly

Rating: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: August 27, 2014

The real Aemilia Basano Lanyer was Renaissance woman, centuries ahead of her time. England’s first professionally-published female poet, she is also suspected to have inspired the poetry of one our greatest and most beloved writers, William Shakespeare—and she continues to inspire writers to this day. With Dark Aemilia, Sally O’Reilly gives us a richly imagined novel of this mysterious, and nearly forgotten, woman, and now, she invites us to discover Ameilia Lanyer first-hand. A collection of Shakespeare’s famed "Dark Lady" sonnets; fascinating and hard-to-find historical details; and Aemilia’s own provocative poetry, as well as exclusive excerpts from the novel; Shakespeare’s Dark Lady is a must-read for poetry lovers and the ideal companion to Sally O’Reilly’s stunning debut—a novel "filled with all the passion, drama, and magic of Elizabethan England"

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Not to be blunt, but this "book" is a bloody waste of time. The jacket description is misleading in that it gives the impression the title will offer some sort of insight to Aemilia's character when in fact is does nothing of the sort. 

The Dark Lady Sonnets by Shakespeare and Eve's Apologie by Aemilia Lanyer are freely available (I looked them up online) and I can't admire the attempt to fashion the Prologue, Chapter One and Historical Note from Dark Aemilia: A Novel of Shakespeare's Dark Lady into a teaser release as the novel's early pages are hardly indicative of its overall content. 

Honestly, I would have liked bonus material, maybe a scene from the book as witnessed by Lilith or Henry, but as it stands, I can't begin to understand what Macmillan is trying to do here.

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I am a witch for the modern age. I keep my spells small, and price them high . What they ask for is the same as always. The common spells deal in love, or what love is meant to make, or else hate, and what that might accomplish. I mean the getting of lovers or babies (or the getting rid of them) or a handy hex for business or revenge. When a spell works, they keep you secret, and take the credit. When it fails, of course, the fault is yours. So a witch is wise to be cautious, quiet, and hard to find.
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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Captive Queen: A Novel of Mary Stuart by Danny Saunders

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Read: August 23, 2014

Political schemes, religious partisanship and unbridled love shake the Royal Court of Scotland at the end of the Stuart dynasty. Witness to sordid murders, spy for Her Majesty among the Protestants of the infamous preacher John Knox, forced to give up her one true love, thrown out onto the streets then ruthlessly attacked by a drunkard, Charlotte Gray will do everything in her power to remain the sovereign's lady-in-waiting. As for the Queen of Scots, she faces turmoil of a completely different kind: prisoner in a castle under the command of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Mary Stuart learns that she is the victim of a vast conspiracy and that her English counterpart has ordered her imminent execution. Despite their hardships, Mary and Charlotte will keep their dignity throughout the storm. The two women will finally find serenity, one in the arms of a man and the other in the arms of God. Interwoven with historical facts of the era, the thrilling The Captive Queen saga is worthy of the greatest royal intrigues that still fascinate us several centuries later.

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I have mixed feelings about Danny Saunders' The Captive Queen. I liked the content and was genuinely intrigued by some of the drama Saunders created, but his style choices made it difficult for me to really get into and appreciate the story. 

Mary Stuart is a fascinating historical figure so I completely understand Saunders' enthusiasm for crafting a novel out of her experiences. In terms of content I think the author did an admirable job recounting the conspiracies, drama and tension that surrounded the Scottish Queen and I enjoyed the perspective Mary's lady-in-waiting, Charlotte Gray brought to the narrative. 

Saunders' interpretation of Mary and Charlotte are certainly worth noting. Mary herself is somewhat different than I expected, but I ultimately found Saunders' version of both original and thought-provoking. Charlotte is hard, calculating and difficult, but rather intriguing when you get right down to it. 

In terms of style, I would have liked more ambiguity. Saunders has a tendency to spell out every detail and while I appreciate the author's enthusiasm, I personally would have enjoying piecing together various elements of the story on my own.

All told, The Captive Queen is a detailed historical that offers a creative glimpse into Mary's world. A little rough around the edges, but not a bad introduction to the tragic monarch. 

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"My enemies, the ones who have brought me here, you shall be judged by the Almighty for your sins."
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Check Out All the Stops on Danny Saunders' The Captive Queen: A Novel of Mary Stuart Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, August 25
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, August 26
Spotlight & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Obsession
Wednesday, August 27
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Thursday, August 28
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, August 29
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Monday, September 1
Review at JulzReads
Tuesday, September 2
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Wednesday, September 3
Interview at To Read or Not To Read
Friday, September 5
Review & Giveaway at Book Lovers Paradise
Monday, September 8
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, September 9
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday, September 10
Excerpt & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Friday, September 12
Review at Princess of Eboli
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