Friday, October 24, 2014

Jazz Baby by Téa Cooper

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: October 14, 2014

In the gritty underbelly of 1920s Sydney, a fresh-faced country girl is about to arrive in the big, dark city – and risk everything in the pursuit of her dreams. Sydney is no place for the fainthearted – five shillings for a twist of snow, a woman for not much more, and a bullet if you look sideways at the wrong person. Dolly Bowman is ready and willing to take on all the brash, bustling city has to offer. After all it is the 1920s, a time for a girl to become a woman and fulfil her dreams. Turning her back on her childhood, she takes up a position working as a housemaid while she searches for her future. World War I flying ace Jack Dalton knows he’s luckier than most. He’s survived the war with barely a scratch, a couple of astute business decisions have paid off, and he’s set for the high life. But a glimpse of a girl that he had forgotten, from a place he’s tried to escape suddenly sets all his plans awry. Try as he might he can’t shake the past, and money isn’t enough to pay the debts he’s incurred.

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I'm not much of a romance reader, but I rolled the dice on Téa Cooper's Jazz Baby. The WWI reference caught my attention and I was more than a little intrigued by the setting. Unfortunately, the novel didn't work for me and I admit, I'd be hard pressed to recommend it.

For one, I felt the jacket description incredibly misleading. The blurb paints Dolly Bowman as an adventurous and determined young woman, but her character is neither. Exceedingly naive and prone to making brash assumptions, Dolly is much more of a Dumb Dora. Her romantic interest, Jack Dalton, had potential, but he's far too pure of heart for a Lounge Lizard. 

I was similarly turned off by Cooper's highly coincidental plot twists. I wont ruin the story for anyone, but
 Jack and Number Fifty-Four, the man he meets at Susie's, Cynthia's sudden change of heart, all of it left me rolling my eyes. There is no tension here and very little mystery, just a drawn out chain of events leading to one inevitable conclusion and forgive me, but that's not the kind of literature that appeals to me.

It was a crap shoot going in and this time fortune failed me. I wanted something historically authentic, characters who radiated the attitudes and conscience of the jazz age, but I afraid Jazz Baby missed the mark and left me wanting. 

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He cast his eye up and down her trim figure. She'd undone the dreadful brown worsted coat and the sight of the heart-shaped neckline on her plain cotton dress made a man wonder what lay beneath. Jack quelled the desire to laugh at his reaction, sitting here watching his erstwhile sister, thinking thoughts he didn't even dare admit. 
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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Rosings by Karen Aminadra

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: May 11, 2013

Trapped and cloistered in her own home. Anne de Bourgh, wealthy heiress daughter of the inimitable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, yearns to be set free from her luxurious prison, Rosings Park. Her life stretches out before her, ordered and planned, but it is a life she does not want. She wants more. She wants to be free. She wants to do everything that has been forbidden her, and she wants more than anything to fall in love with whom she chooses. Lady Catherine de Bourgh has other plans for Anne. Will Lady Catherine have her own way as always? Will Anne succeed? Can she break through the barriers of wealth, rank and duty?

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I think most book junkies can understand the impulse that led me to Karen Aminadra's Rosings. I finished book one, looked the author up, realized she'd written a sequel and quickly succumbed to the enthusiasm that lingers after completing a title you've enjoyed. That's right folks, I am an addict. I'm not at all interested in rehabilitation so don't ask, but I'm always accepting recommendations if you have something you think I should consider.  

For the record, I liked this piece. Anne is practically a footnote in Pride and Prejudice and I really enjoyed seeing her step into the spotlight. As with Charlotte, I think the premise set forth in the jacket description compliments Austen's classic and I appreciate how Aminadra sought to build on details established in the original text. I'll grant she takes liberties with the material, but all things considered I have only one complaint: Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

Anne's mother terrorizes Lizzie for flashing her 'fine eyes' in Darcy's direction and she isn't any kinder to the residents of Hunsford in Charlotte, so why Aminadra attempted an about-face in Rosings is beyond my comprehension. I adore the layers Aminadra gifted Miss de Bourgh, but the effort she put toward reforming her ladyship seemed entirely unnatural considering the earlier incarnations of the character. 

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Anne realised , with a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, that if she did not assert herself now and on this particular issue, she would quite possibly never be happy again.
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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Charlotte by Karen Aminadra

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: May 10, 2013

When Charlotte Lucas married Mr Collins, she did not love him but had at least secured her future. However, what price must she pay for that future? She once said she was not romantic, but how true is that now after almost one year of marriage? Mr Collins is submissive in the extreme to his patroness, and his constant simpering, fawning and deference to the overbearing and manipulative Lady Catherine de Bourgh is sure to try the patience of a saint, or at least of Charlotte. As Charlotte becomes part of Hunsford society, she discovers she is not the only one who has been forced to submit to the controlling and often hurtful hand of Lady Catherine. She feels trapped and realises her need for love and affection. She is not as content as she once thought she would be. The easiest thing to do would be to maintain the peace and do as she is told. But as Charlotte witnesses the misery around her due to her inimitable neighbour, she must decide to remain as she is or to begin a chain of events that will change not only her life but also the lives of those around her in the village of Hunsford forever. But...after all, doesn't every girl deserve a happy ending?

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In the world of Austen based lit, Karen Aminadra's Charlotte was a pleasant surprise. I'd picked it up as a freebie and didn't expect much from the piece, but ultimately enjoyed the author's refreshingly original take on Mr. and Mrs. Collins. Building on Austen's beloved classic, Aminadra chronicles the early days of William and Charlotte's marriage, offering readers the opportunity to indulge their love of Pride and Prejudice while affording two of its minor characters a rare chance at redemption. 

What I liked most about the piece is how natural it feel alongside the original. As with all spin-offs, I feel it important for writers to acknowledge the spirit of the piece on which their story is based. As such, I truly appreciated that Aminadra allowed the character attributes Austen established in the original to factor in her continuation. The said, the depth Aminadra brings to William and Charlotte is certainly worth acknowledging. The Collinses are fairly one dimensional beings in Pride and Prejudice and  I was drawn to the idea that time, perspective and circumstance might allow them to grow beyond those 'first impressions' and into a mutually compassionate and loving couple. 

Aminadra isn't as charitable in her treatment of Lady Catherine de Burgh, but every good story needs an antagonist. The indomitable mistress of Rosings caused her share of trouble in Pride and Prejudice, but her campaign against Lizzie has nothing on her treatment of Hunsford and its residents. While not exactly endearing, the character proves an excellent foil for the Collinses and brings an exceptional sense of melodrama to the novel. I have similar feelings regarding Colonel Fitzwilliam, but again, the story needed someone to push Charlotte and really liked how his role furthered the narrative.

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Charlotte paused with her cup halfway to her mouth at his invitation to meet her again there in the clearing. She did not know how to react. Her mind screamed that she was a married woman and that her husband was a clergyman but her body and heart had other ideas.
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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: April 10, 2013

Katie is on the verge of her Rumspringa, the time in Amish life when teenagers can get a taste of the real world. But the real world comes to her in this dystopian tale with a philosophical bent. Rumors of massive unrest on the “Outside” abound. Something murderous is out there. Amish elders make a rule: No one goes outside, and no outsiders come in. But when Katie finds a gravely injured young man, she can’t leave him to die. She smuggles him into her family’s barn—at what cost to her community? The suspense of this vividly told, truly horrific thriller will keep the pages turning.

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On paper, nothing about Laura Bickle's The Hallowed Ones sounds like it will work. A post-apocalyptic, paranormal fantasy with an Amish twist, I thought the title a joke when I first stumbled across it. Had a friend's daughter not begged me to buddy read it with her I doubt I'd have ever picked it up, but the narrative proved me wrong almost from the start. 

In a market saturated with melancholy and conscience-stricken bloodsuckers, I was pleased to see Bickle's more traditional interpretations. Her vampires are downright creepy and pose a legitimate threat to Katie and her neighbors. Could they give you nightmares? This Walking Dead fan wasn't fazed, but I'd hazard caution if you're the squeamish type. Personally, I was just impressed that a contemporary young adult author would hold classic horror in such high regard. 

I'd snickered over the setting of this piece, but looking back I think it a truly inspired choice. The Amish community is isolated from mainstream society so assuming you can wrap your head around the premise, a lot of the situational drama actually makes sense. If that weren't enough, Bickle embraces the lifestyle and culture of the Amish people and manages to explore their faith without standing atop a soapbox which is actually pretty impressive when you stop and think about it. 

There is a light romantic element to the story, but unlike many of her peers, Bickle doesn't mire her narrative in an overabundance of sexual tension and teenage hormones. In point of fact, Bickle's heroine is both practical and level-headed, an individual who can actually be admired that's not something easily found in this particular genre. 

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"Plain folk are taught that evil is spiritual. The absence of God."
Mrs. Parsall bit back a sob. "Well it seems as if God's left the building, and we're left to our own devices."
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Monday, October 20, 2014

Sinful Folk by Ned Hayes

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Read: October 19, 2014

A terrible loss. A desperate journey. A mother seeks the truth. In December of the year 1377, five children were burned to death in a suspicious house fire. A small band of villagers traveled 200 miles across England in midwinter to demand justice for their children’s deaths. Sinful Folk is the story of this treacherous journey as seen by Mear, a former nun who has lived for a decade disguised as a mute man, raising her son quietly in this isolated village. For years, she has concealed herself and all her secrets. But in this journey, she will find the strength to claim the promise of her past and find a new future. Mear begins her journey in terror and heartache, and ends in triumph and redemption.

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Author Ned Hayes was entirely unfamiliar to me when Sinful Folk arrived in my mailbox and I'll be honest, I didn't really know what to expect from the book when I cracked it open. All I know for certain is that I was pretty ticked by the time I finished chapter eight. 

Now before you jump down my throat, realize context is everything. I began reading Sinful Folk in August when I'd landed an excerpt of the novel in nationwide contest. An excerpt that only included chapters one through eight. Do you see what I'm getting at? If not, allow me to spell it out for you. I was hooked on this piece from page one and wasn't exactly thrilled at only having part of the novel at my immediate disposal. 

For two months the story hovered on the edge of my imagination, but thankfully, Sinful Folk turned out to be worth waiting for. I actually reread the opening chapters and finished the entire novel in two days, but that's neither here nor there. What matters is that the delay and anticipation didn't outweigh my ultimate admiration for Hayes narrative.

First and foremost, I liked the tone of the piece. It's dark, heavy and desperate. Everything I'd imagine life in the fourteenth century to be. A lot of authors have a tendency to romanticize the era and I really appreciated the edginess of Hayes' prose especially when you consider the material he covers over the course of the story. There's a lot more in these pages than the jacket suggests - suspicion, anti-semitism, revenge, etc. - and here again, I think the layers and subplots bring a very authentic level of drama to the story. 

Mear is also worth noting. Her situation and lifestyle allow her to be a somewhat androgynous narrator. At times she feels masculine, at others feminine and I thought it really interesting to see that voice develop as she came into her own. It's not unusual to see a character evolve, but it isn't every day that an author is so creative in illustrating that transition. 

Sinful Folk is heavy reading and covers a substantial amount of historic material. There were a couple moments that I found almost overwhelming, but even so, I consider the time the time I gave this piece well spent and look forward to reading Hayes again in the future.  

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The good, the bad, the virgin, and the harlot: no one is spared, all go rose-spattered with plague lesions. I see no sense, no judgment before doom strikes. Death takes us all with the black malady or the sweating sickness, or the white blindness or the winter croup, or the crops failing or bitter water in our mouths.
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Check Out All the Stops on Ned Hayes' Sinful Folk Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, October 20
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, October 21
Review at Historical Novel Review
Wednesday, October 22
Spotlight at What is That Book About
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Thursday, October 23
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective
Guest Post at Books and Benches
Monday, October 27
Review at Just One More Chapter
Spotlight & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection
Tuesday, October 28
Interview at Layered Pages
Wednesday, October 29
Review at Back Porchervations
Thursday, October 30
Interview at Back Porchervations
Friday, October 31
Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict
Monday, November 3
Interview at Triclinium
Spotlight at Boom Baby Reviews
Tuesday, November 4
Spotlight at Historical Tapestry
Wednesday, November 5
Review at Deal Sharing Aunt
Thursday, November 6
Review at bookramblings
Saturday, November 8
Review at Book Nerd
Monday, November 10
Review at Book Babe
Tuesday, November 11
Review at Impressions in Ink
Review & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Friday, November 14
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Tuesday, November 18
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Review & Giveaway at Beth’s Book Reviews
Wednesday, November 19
Review at Books in the Burbs
Review at Bookworm Babblings
Thursday, November 20
Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Friday, November 21
Review at Library Educated

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