Thursday, May 21, 2015

Scent of Triumph by Jan Moran

Rating: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: February 20, 2015

Scent of Triumph is the story of Danielle Bretancourt, a talented young French perfumer with a flair for fashion and a natural olfactory gift. In the language of perfumery, she is a Nose, with the rare ability to recognize thousands of essences by memory. The story opens on the day England declares war on Germany, and Danielle and her family are caught in the midst of a raging disaster sweeping across Europe. Her life takes a tragic turn when her husband and son are lost behind enemy lines. She spies for the French resistance, determined to find them, but is forced to flee Europe with fragments of her family. Destitute, she mines her talents to create a magnificent perfume that captures the hearts of Hollywood's top stars, then gambles again to win wealth and success as a couturier. Her intelligence and flair attracts the adoration of Jonathan Newell-Grey, of England's top shipping conglomerate, and Cameron Murphy, Hollywood's most charismatic star. Danielle charts her course through devastating wartime losses and revenge; lustful lovers and loveless marriages; and valiant struggles to reunite her family. Set between privileged lifestyles and gritty realities, here is one woman's story of courage, spirit, and resilience.

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I don't know where to begin with Jan Moran's Scent of Triumph. The book made an unmistakable impression, it left me speechless and I find myself at a loss in describing my experience with it. 

Moran's style and tone grated my nerves from the start. The language she employs struck me as repetitive and the story is positively saturated with purple prose. I make a point of ignoring the odd hiccup in spelling and grammar, but Moran struggles with neither. This is a technique and one that didn't hold much appeal for this particular reader. 

The book is character heavy which might have worked, if any of the cast had struck my fancy. Unfortunately, I felt the lot underdeveloped, wooden and clichéd. Danielle Bretancourt and Jonathan Newell-Grey lacked charisma and depth. Cameron Murphy had potential, but I don't feel Moran executed it to her best advantage. Heinrich and Sofia were promising, but they enjoy relatively minor roles and weren't as necessary to Danielle's experience as they were Nicky's.

To make matters worse, I felt Moran's execution predictable, unbalanced and heavy-handed. Danielle's takes place against WWII, but the global conflict hardly competes with the author's portrayal of the perfumer's art. I felt the first half of the narrative entirely unnecessary and I often found myself wondering at the author's delivery. There is a distinct lack of tension and many of the main plot points are weakly tied together. 

I'm a stubborn mule and finished the novel for no other reason than a desire to say I did, but nothing about this piece worked for me and I don't see myself recommending it down the road. 

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They all raised their glasses. Marie cleared her throat and held her glass high. “And to those who’ve gone on before us, may they watch after us,” she said solemnly, then added with a lilting laugh, “and may we never cease to amuse them."
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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Saffron Crocus by Alison McMahan

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Read: May 16, 2015

Venice, 1643. Fifteen-year-old Isabella longs to sing in Monteverdi’s Choir, but only boys (and castrati) can do that. Her singing teacher, Margherita, introduces her to a new wonder: opera! Then Isabella finds Margherita murdered. And now people keep trying to kill Margherita’s handsome rogue of a son, Rafaele. Was Margherita killed so someone could steal her saffron business? Or was it a disgruntled lover, as Margherita—unbeknownst to Isabella—was one of Venice’s wealthiest courtesans? Or will Isabella and Rafaele find the answer deep in Margherita's past, buried in the Jewish Ghetto? Isabella has to solve the mystery of the Saffron Crocus fast, before Rafaele hangs for a murder he didn’t commit, though she fears the truth will drive her and the man she loves irrevocably apart.

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I was of two minds going into Alison McMahan's The Saffron Crocus. On one hand, I have a hit and miss relationship with young adult fiction and was worried the book wouldn't work for me. On the other, I was intrigued by the premise and curious to see if the author could make such a story work. 

Looking back, I can easily say I lucked out with the book and found it quite satisfying. McMahan's is well-rounded and memorable, but the mystery at the heart of the story makes the piece. The amount of historic detail also stuck a chord with me and I was fascinated at the level of authentic detail the author was able to squeeze into the narrative. 

Beautifully imagined and thoroughly engaging, The Saffron Crocus was well worth the time I spent with it. A wonderful story for both young adult and mature audiences.  

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It was Piero. Face down, one arm stretched out before him, as if in supplication. A puddle of blood under him. Dead.
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Blackwood Crossing by M.K. McClintock

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Read: May 14, 2015

Torn between loyalty to her family and refusal to marry a laird she despises, Rhona Davidson accepts a dangerous proposal from a man she knows only as Blackwood. Leaving behind a life of leisure, Charles Blackwood bravely serves his country with honor and the skill of a trained British agent. When his newest case returns him to the wild Highlands of Scotland, he is faced with a choice between killing a man and saving the only woman he has ever loved. Charles and Rhona join their lives, only to discover that their choices will result in bloodshed, unless they can uncover a truth long buried, deep in the Highland soil.

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Confession time folks. I liked M.K. McClintock's Blackwood Crossing more than its predecessor. Charles and Rhona appealed to me in ways Alaina and Tristan didn't and I felt the story itself a tad more engaging. 

Charles and Rhona's shared history complicates their association, but it also manufactures a really fun dynamic for McClintock's readers. Again, I wasn't on the edge of my seat, but I found the chemistry between the leading characters and the intricacies of their relationship quite entertaining. 

Word to the wise, the book does reference Alaina Claiborne and while I don't think it entirely necessary to tackle the books in order, I'd highly recommend it. 

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She pulled against the force of his grip, but her strength did not match his. "I have means enough to make my own place and to live comfortable. I neither need nor desire a husband."
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Monday, May 18, 2015

Alaina Claiborne by M.K. McClintock

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Read: May 11, 2015

How far would you go to avenge your family and save the one you love? In nineteenth-century England, Alaina Claiborne had a loving family, a cherished friend, and devoted servants. She spent her days riding across the grassy hills of the English countryside, joyful and at peace. Then tragedy strikes and her world is forever changed. Searching for those responsible is her only focus... until she meets Tristan. Tristan Sheffield, a man of many talents, searches out those who don’t want to be found. His past is filled with secrets and deeds he would rather leave deeply buried. However, when his life unexpectedly entwines with Alaina's, he soon discovers they share more than a mutual desire to catch a murderer. On their hunt for a man driven by greed, Tristan and Alaina find that love is the greatest weapon against evil, and they'll stop at nothing to survive.

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I have mixed feelings about Alaina Claiborne by M.K. McClintock. It's a nice story and entertaining in it's way, but I felt like I knew where it was going most of the time and that sense of predictability didn't have me sitting on the edge of the seat. 

I don't mean to sounds harsh or turn anyone from the novel. McClintock's characterizations are quite interesting, her settings are delightfully original and the plot has a lot going for it in terms of movement. It's a fun piece, it just didn't have the ambiguity and tension I'd anticipated going in. 

That said, I'm excited about moving forward with the British Agent series. My expectations were a little off base and certainly colored my experience with the novel, but I enjoyed the time I spent with it just the same and am interested to see what McClintock will offer readers Blackwood Crossing.

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Tristan remembered ever man and every move. He has seen two of his agents go down, each taking a culprit with him. One had escaped, but he couldn't recall how. They might be the best at what they did, but they had made a deadly mistake. Tristan once again studied his partners and friends. Neither would forget what happened either. They woman and child's screams promised to haunt them all for years to come. 
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Teresa of the New World by Sharman Apt Russell

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Read: May 8, 2015

In 1528, the real-life conquistador Cabeza de Vaca shipwrecked in the New World where he lived for eight years as a slave, trader, and shaman. In this lyrical weaving of history and myth, the adventurer takes his young daughter Teresa from her home in Texas to walk westward into the setting sun, their travels accompanied by miracles--visions and prophecies. But when Teresa reaches the outposts of New Spain, life is not what her father had promised. As a kitchen servant in the household of a Spanish official, Teresa grows up estranged from the magic she knew as a child, when she could speak to the earth and listen to animals. When a new epidemic of measles devastates the area, the sixteen-year-old sets off on her own journey, befriending a Mayan were-jaguar who cannot control his shape-shifting and a warhorse abandoned by his Spanish owner. Now Teresa moves through a land stalked by Plague: smallpox as well as measles, typhus, and scarlet fever. Soon it becomes clear that Teresa and her friends are being manipulated and driven by forces they do not understand. To save herself and others, Teresa will find herself listening again to the earth, sinking underground, swimming through limestone and fossil, opening to the power of root and stone. As she searches for her place in the New World, she will travel farther and deeper than she had ever imagined. Rich in historical detail and scope, Teresa of the New World takes you into the dreamscape of the sixteenth-century American Southwest.

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I’m not sure what prompted me the tackle Teresa of the New World by Sharman Apt Russell, but I’m very happy I took the chance. The book is different, but I greatly enjoyed the scope and artistry of the piece. 

Russell flirts with both spirituality and history over the course of Teresa’s story and while I would definitely classify it as a young adult piece, I think it has certain appeal for more mature readers as well. In terms of content, I liked how Russell painted the indigenous people and the balance she struck between fact based material and the more fantastic elements of the story. 

I don’t consider myself a particular fan magical realism, but Russell makes it work. The end result falls far outside my regular stomping grounds, but proved well worth the time I spent with it. 

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Rain bagan to fall in earnest. The raven flapped and flew to the hole in the grass roof. Water greening the thorn forest, water rushing to sea, a power, a magic rushing through everything, everyone and everything, each day bringing its own amazement.  
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