Monday, September 29, 2014

The Novice by Mirella Sichirollo Patzer

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Read: September 26, 2014

A young woman on the verge of taking her vows to become a nun. A desperate flight from a murderous massacre. One honorable man comes to her rescue. Another becomes her nemesis and captor. And a life and death search to reunite with her one true love. In 10th century Naples, Saracens run rampant, annihilating villages, murdering women and children. Death and despair is everywhere. Alone in the world, Sara is a young novice plagued with doubts about taking her final vows to become a nun. When her convent is attacked, she flees for her life straight into the arms of a group of Saracens who leave her to die alone in the woods. An honorable cavaliere named Nicolo comes to her rescue and offers to take her to the safety of Naples. As they journey together, they are irresistibly drawn to each other. Believing Sara to be a nun, the honorable Nicolo is torn between love and duty to respect her vows. Heartbroken, he does what honor demands and sets her free before she can tell him the truth that she is not a nun. In her search to reunite with Nicolo, she encounters Umberto, a dark and dangerous man who will stop at nothing in his obsession to possess her. With her sharp intellect, and her heart, Sara must rely on her own courage and strength to escape her abuser and find the only man she will ever love. A story that burns with intensity, intrigue, and passion from the author of the highly successful novel, Orphan of the Olive Tree.

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Have I been living under a rock? All things considered it's a very distinct possibility, but I ask because despite having a slew of titles to her name, The Novice marks my first experience with author Mirella Sichirollo Patzer.

I fell for this piece almost from the first. Even before I got to know the characters or understood direction of the story, I was overcome by Patzer's mastery of language and prose. There's something intoxicating about it, an artistry that draws you in and settles in the back of your mind. The atmospheric quality of the novel is equally appealing. I'm not overly familiar with 10th century Naples, but I had no problem envisioning Sara's world. 

Speaking of Sara, I have to note the complexity in her character. Patzer built a passionate fire in her heroine, a romantic and devoted spirit who defied my expectation and the truly captivated my imagination. An intensely sympathetic individual, Sara faces choices I could never understand, but Patzer's presentation made her profoundly relatable nonetheless. 

A beautiful if somewhat predictable piece, The Novice is a brilliant example of lyrical and ornate composition. Highly recommended. 

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Happiness is often subtle. Reason and melancholy can easily overpower dreams. Love and justice often battle each other in a man’s thoughts. So it was with him. At first, love prevailed. Whenever he thought of her, his soul would shimmer like moon-rippled water. When she looked at him, the very pillars of his manhood seemed to quake. When she passed by him, light-footed, from garden to portico, she arrived like a burst of sunlight, bringing rays of warmth into his soul, onto his wounded flesh. Then he recalled other musings less pleasant, but equally as important. The woman was a nun. He must keep his desires leashed and renounce any feelings for her. If he did not quell his ardor for this bride of Christ, he would come to rue the day. No man may long for a nun. It was a grave sin. 
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Check Out All the Stops on Mirella Sichirollo Patzer's The Novice Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, September 29
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, September 30
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Interview at Triclinium – Elisabeth Storrs
Wednesday, October 1
Guest Post at Book Babe
Spotlight at Historical Fiction Obsession
Thursday, October 2
Review & Giveaway at The Book Binder’s Daughter
Interview & Giveaway at Historical Romance Lover
Friday, October 3
Spotlight & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection
Monday, October 6
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective
Tuesday, October 7
Review at Unshelfish
Wednesday, October 8
Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Tapestry
Thursday, October 9
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews
Friday, October 10
Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Guest Post at Keely Brooke Keith

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Gracelin O'Malley by Ann Moore

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Netgalley/Personal Library
Read: September 28, 2014

Gracelin’s father, Patrick, named her for the light of the sea that shone in her eyes. But joy and laughter leave the O’Malley clan when Gracelin is six-and-a-half and tragedy befalls the family. Less than a decade later, Gracelin must put her romantic dreams aside and marry a local landowner, the son of an English lord, to save her loved ones from financial ruin. Although she is a dutiful wife to capricious Bram Donnelly, Gracelin takes dangerous risks. With political violence sweeping through Ireland and the potato blight destroying lives, she secretly sides with the Young Irelanders, among them her brilliant brother, Sean, and the rebel leader Morgan McDonagh. Set against the rise of the Irish rebellion, with a cast of unforgettable characters led by the indomitable eponymous heroine, Gracelin O’Malley weaves a spellbinding story of courage, hope, and passion.

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I think every reviewer has a list. Books they read before they began to chronicle their thoughts, titles that haunt their memory. My list is remarkably short, but Ann Moore's Gracelin O'Malley has topped it for the better part of the last three years which is why I jumped at the opportunity to review it as a new release when the book was reprinted by Open Road Media. 

For the record, I don't think the description does Grace any favors. I've read the book four times and I've never seen her decision to marry Bram as a sacrifice of romantic ideals. To me it's always seemed a practical arrangement, the decision of naive teenager who wishes only to improve the lives of those she loves, but it is the catalyst that forever alters the course of her life. Her volatile marriage forges a steely determination that never would have existed otherwise. This is a character who is truly defined by the adversity she faces and watching her come into her own, witnessing that journey from idealistic girl to resolute and purposeful woman is truly inspiring.

Grace isn't the only memorable character either. Morgan McDonagh is one of the few leading men to have gotten under my skin. A fierce and ambitious patriot, Morgan's experiences with the Young Irelanders could be a novel in and of itself. Bram Donnelly, Sean O'Malley, Patrick O'Malley, Gran Doughtery, Father Brown, Lord Evans, Moira Sullivan, Henry Adams, Aislinn McDonagh, Julia Martin... I usually gravitate to a single character, but Moore presents such a rich ensemble cast that doing so is absolutely impossible. 

Historically, the book is a powerfully detailed story of the great famine. Moore doesn't hold back in her brutally unapologetic portrayal of the crisis. She attacks the political upheaval and rebellion in similar fashion and in so doing, provides readers a comprehensive portrait of nineteenth century Ireland and depravity that drove so many from her shores.

An extraordinary story of family and the lengths one goes to protect it, Gracelin O'Malley is an absolute must. An elegantly crafted fiction that remains with you long after the final page. 

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McDonagh had proven himself a brilliant leader and readily deserving of the praise heaped upon him by the people of Ireland. They thought him invincible, and as long as he traversed the countryside speaking of victory and showing them the way, they continued to hope that the battle would indeed be won. They hid him and fed him, loved him and called him their own son; despite those among them who turned on their own and tried to collect the reward for his capture, McDonagh had remained free—and freed others. Surely God marched with such a man as this, they said, and had McDonagh asked them to swim across the sea and fight England on her own land, they would have done it.
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East India by Colin Falconer

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Read: September 25, 2014

In any other circumstance but shipwreck, rape and murder, a man like Michiel van Texel would never have met a fine lady such as Cornelia Noorstrandt. He was just a soldier, a sergeant in the Dutch East India company’s army, on his way from Amsterdam to the Indies to fight the Mataram. Such a woman was far above the likes of him. But both their destinies intertwine far away from Holland, on some god-forsaken islands near the Great Southland. When their great ship, the Utrecht, founders far from home, surviving the Houtman Rocks is the least of their worries. As they battle to survive and the bravest and the best reveal themselves for what they are, Cornelia’s only hope is a mercenary in a torn coat who shows her that a man is more than just manners and money. He makes her one promise: ‘Even if God forsakes you, I will find you.’ But can he keep it? Described by one critic as ‘Jack and Rose in the seventeenth century’, East India will keep you wondering until the final page.

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Colin Falconer's East India was an interesting read for me. Past experience being what it is, I was immediately skeptical of the piece, but the praise of my fellow reviewers roused a curiosity I couldn't well ignore. 

To get right to the point, I liked East India a lot more than I'd expected. The shipwreck was a perfect platform for Falconer to weave a gritty tale of doubt, danger and desperation. I enjoyed the romantic aspect between Cornelia and Michiel, but I was perversely enchanted with the darker elements of the plot. Falconer holds nothing back and in this context, I felt the explicitness of his descriptions really worked in his favor and conveyed a very realistic sense of the crisis his characters are meant to experience over the course of the novel.

What I liked most, however, were the number of underlying themes and abstract concepts the Falconer worked into the story. Beneath the surface, East India is a phenomenal exploration of social interaction and what happens when we are forced to struggle for limited resources. I don't mean to sound pedantic in my assessment, this is fiction after all, but from a behavioral and psychological standpoint I was fascinated at how Falconer depicted that degeneration within the narrative.

A fast-paced adventure, East India is difficult to put down. A brilliant choice for fans of 17th century historicals and drama on the high seas.

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“You must pray there is no hell, Christiaan, for if you are wrong, I do believe the Devil has several new and exquisite torments devised particularly for such as you.”
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Check Out All the Stops on Colin Falconer's East India Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, July 28
Review at History & Women
Tuesday, July 29
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Wednesday, July 30
Review at Just One More Chapter
Tuesday, August 5
Review at Book Nerd
Thursday, August 7
Review at Bibliotica
Monday, August 11
Review at A Library of My Own
Friday, August 15
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Monday, August 18
Review at The Book Binder’s Daughter
Thursday, August 21
Review at Beth’s Book Reviews
Monday, August 25
Review at Casual Readers
Wednesday, August 27
Review at Book Reviews by Lanise Brown
Saturday, August 30
Review at Book by Book
Wednesday, September 3
Review at Unshelfish
Wednesday, September 10
Review at A Bookish Affair
Monday, September 15
Review at Griperang’s Bookmarks
Wednesday, September 17
Review at The True Book Addict
Friday, September 19
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Sunday, September 28
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, September 26
Review at Kinx’s Book Nook
Tuesday, October 7
Review at A Cup Of Tea and A Big Book
Sunday, October 12
Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book

Monday, September 22, 2014

Ravensdale by Lucinda Elliot

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Read: September 18, 2014

When the group of highwaymen headed by the disgraced Earl of Little Dean, Reynaud Ravensdale hold up the hoydenish Isabella Murray’s coach, she knocks one of them down and lectures them all on following Robin Hood’s example. The rascally Reynaud Ravensdale – otherwise known as the dashing highwayman Mr Fox – is fascinated by her spirit. He escaped abroad three years back following his supposedly shooting a friend dead after a quarrel. Rumour has it that his far more respectable cousin was involved. Now, having come back during his father’s last illness, the young Earl is seeking to clear his name. Isabella’s ambitious parents are eager to marry her off to Reynaud Ravensdale’s cousin, the next in line to his title. The totally unromantic Isabella is even ready to elope with her outlaw admirer to escape this fate – on condition that he teaches her how to be a highwaywoman herself. This hilarious spoof uses vivid characters and lively comedy to bring new life to a theme traditionally favoured by historical novelists – that of the wild young Earl, who, falsely accused of murder by the machinations of a conniving cousin and prejudged by his reputation, lives as an outlaw whilst seeking to clear his name.

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Lucinda Elliot came to my attention in 2012 when I read and reviewed That Scoundrel Emile Dubois. Two years on, the book stands out in my memory for its unique voice and original story which is why I jumped when chance afforded the opportunity to review Elliot's latest novel.

Ravensdale is loosely related to the earlier volume, but rest assured, these are two very different stories. A fun, romantic farce, Ravensdale is more parody than paranormal, but still retains the artistry and charm I associate with its creator. I don't think Reynaud and Isabella as compelling as Emile and Sophie, but the couple make an engaging pair nonetheless. His impetuous nature paired with her bold confidence create an unconventional chemistry that is enticingly pleasant and amusingly ironic.

A humorously offbeat affair, Ravensdale is anything but dull. A delightful volume that pokes playfully at the stereotypes and tropes of historic romance and brilliantly illustrates Elliot's creativity and range.

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No doubt she could lay a wager with Miss Amelia on who could thread so many needles in two minutes for a glass of cordial. That would need as much skill, but who would be impressed? She sulked in silence about how women were made boring by their upbringing. Then she wondered, as so often before, if she was mad, as nobody else seemed to think like this.
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Check Out All the Stops on Lucinda Elliot's Ravensdale Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, September 22
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, September 23
Interview at Layered Pages
Wednesday, September 24
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Saturday, September 27
Spotlight at Romantic Historical Fiction Lovers
Sunday, September 28
Review at Carole’s Ramblings
Monday, September 29
Interview & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Tuesday, September 30
Review at WTF Are You Reading?
Review at Devilishly Delicious Book Blog
Thursday, October 2
Review at Book Nerd
Spotlight at Just One More Chapter
Friday, October 3
Spotlight at SOS Aloha

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Circle of Spies by Roseanna M. White

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: December 21, 2013

This exciting and adventurous romantic spy novel is the third book in the Culper Ring series from Roseanna M. White. Circle of Spies combines fascinating cloak-and-dagger secrets with a tale of love and intrigue at the end of the Civil War. Baltimore, 1865--Marietta Hughes never wanted to be a spy... but espionage is thrust upon her as the War Between the States rolls on. Unbeknownst to her, a Confederate secret society bent on destroying the Union she loves has been meeting in her basement. When she discovers the plots and papers covering her walls, she feels as though she is losing her world. Slade Osborne, an undercover Pinkerton agent, is determined to do whatever is necessary to help end the conflict between the North and the South. When he infiltrates this secret cell, it isn't just their inner workings that baffle him--it's the beautiful woman who seems to be a puppet for the new leader and yet... somehow not an enemy of the Union. Can he trust her? Will she trust him? Will their shared faith sustain them? And can Marietta and Slade stymie the enemy long enough without being discovered to see their beloved country reunited? 

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Circle of Spies is the third installment of Roseanna M. White's Culper Ring series, but don't worry over reading the books in order. I didn't tackle them as written and had no trouble whatsoever appreciating the novel as a standalone publication. 

White's heroine interested me for a lot of reasons. Marietta is passionate, flirtatious and inquisitive, but not flawless. She makes mistakes, is prone to both fear and doubt and not to point fingers, but that's not something I'm used to seeing in Christian fiction. 

Another thing I liked about the book was how natural White's religious message felt within the context of the novel. She introduces her theme slowly and allows it to grow in a realistic fashion which is something I always appreciate, but again, isn't something I'm accustomed to in this genre. 

Historically White does some very interesting things with railroad culture and the Pinkertons, but what really stood out to me was her treatment of Lincoln's presidency and how the war really changed the perceptions and abilities of our nation's leader.

The pacing slowed from time to time and there were instances in which I felt White wandered too far from the central story, but I enjoyed Circle of Spies just the same and look forward to reading the rest of the series. 

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“My brother gave his life for the Union. How can you question where I stand?”
“Your cousin gave his life for the Confederacy in the very same battle. How can I help but question?”
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The Kindred of Darkness by Barbara Hambly

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: November 19, 2013

When James Asher and his wife Lydia's baby daughter Miranda is kidnapped by the Master Vampire of London, the stakes are high: blindly follow the Master Vampire's instructions, keep out of the way of the human networks that serves the vampires, destroy the interloper who seeks to seize control of the London Nest, and find the key to the Nest's tortuous inner workings: The Book of the Kindred of Darkness. Even with the vampire Don Simon Ysidro on their side, there's no guarantee that anything - or anyone - is who or what they appear to be. Nor is there any certainty that they'll see their child again - or survive the experience themselves.

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My experience with Barbara Hambly's The Kindred of Darkness wasn't exactly ideal. Had the book been written as a standalone, I might have felt differently, but as it stands I spent most of my reading trying to piece together a story I was ill-prepared to enjoy.

That said, I like how Hambly built on her previous novels. Obviously I was at a disadvantage in appreciating the development of her characters and story, but even I acknowledge admiration for her style and tone. The story is appropriately dark and she definitely veers away from the more common vampiric archetypes and themes. 

Not my favorite read, but I firmly believe my detachment from the characters and events to be the cause. I'd certainly read Hambly again, but caution readers to tackle the James Asher chronologically. 

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As Death’s shadow changes all things, so the vampire is no longer man or woman. Blood he seeks, and without the kill he loses that facility which he has, to cast a glamour on human sight and human dreams. Yet even when he has fasted only a short while, still he hungers for the kill with the lust of starvation. No other thing is to him so important as this: not the love of family nor honor, neither learning nor art. Having given up his soul for the promise of more life, he finds that without the soul, all that remains is appetite. All which colored life takes on the single hue of blood.
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The Poppy Factory by Liz Trenow

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: June 17, 2014

A captivating story of two young women, bound together by the tragedy of two very different wars. Perfect for fans of Katie Flynn and Maureen Lee. For Jess and Rose, the realities of war have terrible repercussions… 2012 and Jess, an army medic, is back home following her tour of Afghanistan. Shell-shocked by what she has seen, she wonders if her life will ever be the same again. Can help come through her great-grandmother Rose’s diaries? 1922 and Rose has just welcomed her beloved husband Alfie home from the First World War. But the homecoming is not what Rose had expected; Alfie returns from war a changed man, and not the same person Rose married. As he struggles to find work and to cope with life, Rose struggles with temptation… Can an old factory, set up to help injured soldiers, help Jess, Rose and Alfie and save them from the heartache of war?

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The flood on WWI fiction might be wearing on some, but I am not among them. No, I am thoroughly enjoying every minute of this craze and honestly hope more authors jump on board because I love what I'm seeing. This Is How I'd Love YouLies Told in Silence, WakeStella BainLetters from SkyeThe Ambassador's Daughter... it just keeps getting better which leads me to my latest read, Liz Trenow's The Poppy Factory. 

I make no secret of my admiration for this author, but even I was skeptical of her subject matter this go round. PTSD in war fiction isn't the most original story line, it's been done and well at that, but Trenow pulled it off. Uniting two generations and two conflicts in a single story line, she managed to bridge decades of medical research to give readers a comprehensive view of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and the struggles faced by those living with the condition. 

Another thing I liked about this piece was Trenow's ability to foster an emotional relationship between her readers and characters they never actually meet. Unlike Jess, Rose and Alfie exist in the pages of old diaries, making their appearances both intimate and imprecise. We don't see every moment of their lives, don't understand everything facet of their personality, but we still empathize with Rose's tumultuous marriage and Alfie's traumatic front line experience. 

There are few authors who I confidently recommend without hesitation, but at the end of the day, Liz Trenow definitely makes the list. The Poppy Factory is easily the heaviest of her books, but it is no less moving than The Last Telegram or The Forgotten Seamstress. Highly recommended to one and all. 

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These poppies they make – and they sell in their tens of thousands now – are not just a symbol of loss and sadness, I’ve come to understand. They are also a reminder of how important it is for the rest of us to go on living the best and fullest lives possible, in honour of those who didn’t survive.
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