Wednesday, October 24, 2018

#BookReview: A Torch in His Heart by Anna Belfrage

Genre
Reincarnation Fiction

Series
The Wanderer #1

Buy Links
Amazon US
Amazon UK
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Social Media
Official Website
Facebook
Twitter

DESCRIPTION: 
In the long lost ancient past, two men fought over the girl with eyes like the Bosporus under a summer sky. It ended badly. She died. They died.

Since then, they have all tumbled through time, reborn over and over again. Now they are all here, in the same place, the same time and what began so long ago must finally come to an end.

Ask Helle Madsen what she thinks about reincarnation and she’ll laugh in your face. Besides, Helle has other stuff to handle, what with her new, exciting job in London and her drop-dead but seriously sinister boss, Sam Woolf. And then one day Jason Morris walks into her life and despite never having clapped eyes on him before, she recognises him immediately. Very weird. Even more weird is the fact that Sam and Jason clearly hate each other’s guts. Helle’s life is about to become extremely complicated and far too exciting.

REVIEW: 
Romance is not my usual stomping ground, but A Torch in His Heart was difficult to ignore. I’ve read nearly all of Anna Belfrage’s books and couldn’t help being curious about the project, so I took my chances and jumped in with an open mind.

In terms of content, A Torch in His Heart is a hot and steamy read. Belfrage has never shied from love scenes, but she explored new territory here, and I liked how the action complemented the tone of the narrative. That said, I’m drawn to themes and have to say that while I felt both elements strong, I preferred the ideas at the heart of the story.

Love is a tangible theme in Belfrage’s historical and time-slip novels, but her earlier works focus on the effects of love, how it influences both those who have it and those who don’t and what people will endure for the sake of it. The fact that Jason and Helle are not limited to single lifetime allowed Belfrage to treat their connection differently, and I enjoyed the implied undertones of that gave the story. There is something raw and ethereal in how Belfrage treats the emotional relationship, and it struck a chord in me.

I will note that the story reminded me of Gwendolyn Womack’s The Memory Painter, but the mechanics of A Torch in His Heart felt more robust and defined. Belfrage put a lot of thought into the process of reincarnation and I think her ideas translated quite beautifully to the page. I liked the characters a great deal and was hooked by the cliffhanger. Helle comes into her own in the final chapters of the book, and I am eager to see where Belfrage will take that strength as the story moves forward.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Kindle Unlimited
Read: September 10, 2018
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Monday, October 22, 2018

#BookReview: Dear George, Dear Mary: A Novel of George Washington's First Love by Mary Calvi

Genre
Biographic Fiction

Buy Links
Amazon US
Amazon UK
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Social Media
Official Website
Facebook
Twitter


DESCRIPTION: 
A novel about heiress Mary Philipse's relationship with George Washington, based on historical accounts, letters, and personal journals by nine-time New York Emmy award-winning journalist Mary Calvi.

“Love is said to be an involuntary passion, and it is, therefore, contended that it cannot be resisted.” —George Washington

Did unrequited love spark a flame that ignited a cause that became the American Revolution? Never before has this story about George Washington been told. Crafted from hundreds of letters, witness accounts, and journal entries, Dear George, Dear Mary explores George’s relationship with his first love, New York heiress Mary Philipse, the richest belle in Colonial America.

From elegant eighteenth-century society to bloody battlefields, the novel creates breathtaking scenes and riveting characters. Dramatic portraits of the two main characters unveil a Washington on the precipice of greatness, using the very words he spoke and wrote, and his ravishing love, whose outward beauty and refinement disguise a complex inner struggle.

Dear George, Dear Mary reveals why George Washington had such bitter resentment toward the Brits, established nearly two decades before the American Revolution, and it unveils details of a deception long hidden from the world that led Mary Philipse to be named a traitor, condemned to death and left with nothing. While that may sound like the end, ultimately both Mary and George achieve what they always wanted.

REVIEW: 
Before I get too far ahead of myself, I want to note that I’m in the minority when it comes to Mary Calvi’s Dear George, Dear Mary. Most readers loved the time they spent with this book, and as such, I hope anyone reading this takes my feedback with a grain of salt.

Calvi based this story on a little-known chapter of George Washington’s life, and while I liked the material, I found the thesis challenging to swallow. I don’t mean to be rude, but suggesting the ignition switch of the American Revolution is rooted in George Washington’s relationship with Mary Philipse requires the reader to ignore both the social landscape of the colonies and a myriad of political policies. A war started by love might work for Homer, but I don’t feel it appropriate when exploring the American Revolution.

I found the political dialogue in this piece minimal, which was hard for me as a reader who enjoys such things, but I also found it difficult to build relationships with Calvi’s cast or envision the world they inhabited. Calvi's plot comes through alright, but her worldbuilding and character development failed me. Calvi’s style was too dry for my tastes, and I felt it took far too long for the story to come full circle.

At the end of the day, I found Calvi’s story creative, but feel I was a poor fit for it and would have a hard time recommending it alongside novels like America’s First Daughter or The Turncoat.

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: October 20, 2018
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Friday, October 19, 2018

#BookReview: The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher

Genre
Biographic Fiction

Buy Links
Amazon US
Amazon UK
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Social Media
Official Website
Facebook
Twitter

DESCRIPTION: 
A captivating novel following the exploits of Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy, the forgotten and rebellious daughter of one of America's greatest political dynasties.

London, 1938. The effervescent "It girl" of London society since her father was named the ambassador, Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy moves in rarified circles, rubbing satin-covered elbows with some of the 20th century's most powerful figures. Eager to escape the watchful eye of her strict mother, Rose, the antics of her older brothers, Jack and Joe, and the erratic behavior of her sister Rosemary, Kick is ready to strike out on her own and is soon swept off her feet by Billy Hartington, the future Duke of Devonshire.

But their love is forbidden, as Kick's devout Catholic family and Billy's staunchly Protestant one would never approve their match. When war breaks like a tidal wave across her world, Billy is ripped from her arms as the Kennedys are forced to return to the States. Kick gets work as a journalist and joins the Red Cross to get back to England, where she will have to decide where her true loyalties lie—with family or with love...

REVIEW: 
As with Therese Anne Fowler’s A Well-Behaved Woman, my experience of Kerri Maher’s The Kennedy Debutante was undermined by my familiarity with the subject matter and a very defined expectation regarding its fictionalization. My reading was also impacted by my admiration for Marius Gabriel’s interpretation of both Rose and Rosemary in The Ocean Liner.

Fair or not, I can only comment on my experiences and perspective, so please consider context before passing judgment and proceed with the knowledge that the following contains spoilers.

Like Fowler, Maher has an eye for subject matter, and I found no flaw in her writing. I think many readers will fall in love with this story, but I wanted more from it. I certainly understand the romanticism surrounding an American marrying into the upper echelons of British society, but I think Kick was a far more complex character than the society darling presented between these pages.

Though she pursued a very different goal, I think she was as ambitious and determined as her father before her. I think the story substituted Jack and Rosemary to bolster the narrative where Joe Jr. was the more appropriate historical counterpart, and I feel very strongly that Kick’s story began the day Billy died. Maher disagrees, and there is nothing wrong with that, but my tastes favor stories with more depth and more substantial motifs.

My commentary is personal opinion, and its only relevance is in illustrating my point of view. The Kennedy Debutante is a well-researched novel that includes details that will appeal to both family enthusiasts and those discovering the story for the first time. It simply missed the marks I wanted it to hit, and while I stand by my feelings, I’d have no trouble recommending this title to other readers.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: April 26, 2018
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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

#BookReviews: A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler

Genre
Biographic Fiction

Buy Links
Amazon US
Amazon UK
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Social Media
Official Website
Facebook
Twitter

DESCRIPTION: 
The riveting novel of iron-willed Alva Vanderbilt and her illustrious family as they rule Gilded-Age New York, from the New York Times bestselling author of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald.

Alva Smith, her southern family destitute after the Civil War, married into one of America’s great Gilded Age dynasties: the newly wealthy but socially shunned Vanderbilts. Ignored by New York’s old-money circles and determined to win respect, she designed and built nine mansions, hosted grand balls, and arranged for her daughter to marry a duke. But Alva also defied convention for women of her time, asserting power within her marriage and becoming a leader in the women's suffrage movement.

With a nod to Jane Austen and Edith Wharton, in A Well-Behaved Woman Therese Anne Fowler paints a glittering world of enormous wealth contrasted against desperate poverty, of social ambition and social scorn, of friendship and betrayal, and an unforgettable story of a remarkable woman. Meet Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont, living proof that history is made by those who know the rules—and how to break them.

REVIEW: 
Knowing something about the history that inspired a story is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you’re dying for a creative mind to fictionalize the material. Still, on the other, you want to see it done a certain way, and you get intensely frustrated when the author fails to deliver your private expectations. It is ridiculous to expect anyone to read your mind, but the disappointment exists just the same.

This phenomenon inspired my negative and obscenely biased response to Daisy Goodwin’s The Fortune Hunter and Allison Pataki’s Sisi series, The Accidental Empress and Sisi: Empress on Her Own. It’s the reason I’ve avoided Susan Appleyard’s In a Gilded Cage and Danny Saunder’s Sissi: The Last Empress, and it is the root cause of my delay in reviewing Kerri Maher’s The Kennedy Debutante and Therese Anne Fowler’s A Well-Behaved Woman.

I’m sharing this because I want to be very clear that my review of this book is slanted by perspective and hope anyone reading it understands that. If you choose to proceed, please try to keep this context in mind and be aware of potential spoilers.

I wanted A Well-Behaved Woman to highlight a figure whose drive pushed her to the very height of society, whose blind ambition required sacrifice, who only realized the collateral damage of her decisions late in life, and in an act of redemption used that revelation to reconnect with her daughter and empower the Women’s Suffrage Movement.

What I got was an endless parade of parties and cotillions, marital infidelities, and society gossips, topped off with the frills and fuss of keeping up with Mrs. Astor’s four hundred. Call me crazy, but the themes I’d envisioned simply weren’t part of this story. The subject matter had so much potential, but Fowler honed in on emotional and social repression. She wrote a poor little rich girl where there might have been a phoenix rising from the ashes to wage a personal war on the institutions and policies that held her back, a war that, in many ways, continues through the present day.

Reviews and ratings are subjective, and my commentary is no exception. I found no flaw in Fowler’s writing or style, I appreciate the author’s ability to recognize good material, and think a lot of people will really enjoy this piece. A Well-Behaved Woman didn't work for me, but at the end of the day, that has more to do with my tastes and expectations that it does anything else.

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: October 14, 2018
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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

#BookReview: Empress Charlotte: The Princess and the Archduke by Fabien Nury & Mattieu Bonhomme

Genre
Historical Graphic Novel

Series
Empress Charlotte #1

Buy Links
Amazon US
Amazon UK

DESCRIPTION: 
At sixteen, Princess Charlotte falls in love with an Austrian archduke, Maximilian of the House of Habsburg. Soon enough, she finds herself enmeshed in the cruel and unpredictable world of international diplomacy as her marriage founders. Increasingly shrewd, naïveté and idealism replaced by practicality and skepticism, Charlotte will help ensure that she and Maximilian are sent to Mexico to reign as emperor and empress…

REVIEW: 
The only daughter of Leopold I, Charlotte of Belgium, grows up in the protective shelter of her father’s court. Sweet and idealistic, Charlotte is ill-prepared for the intrigues of Europe’s power players, a fact that becomes readily apparent soon after her marriage to Archduke Maximillian. Forced to sink or swim among the Austrian Hapsburgs, Charlotte is must learn to play the game by their rules or consign herself to life as an isolated political pawn.

Charlotte’s is a story that begs to be told, and I loved how Nury and Bonhomme approached it. The book has a lot of emotional depth, and I found the political dialogue neatly presented in the heroine’s experiences. Charlotte’s character arc is beautifully rendered, Prince Philippe and Felix Eloin make superb supporting characters, and I was thoroughly impressed by the characterizations of the Count of Bombelles and Empress Elisabeth.

The artwork is a little old-fashioned for my tastes, but I enjoyed the time I spent with this book and can’t wait to see the rest of the story.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: October 7, 2018
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Monday, October 8, 2018

#BookReview: Athena’s Champion by David Hair & Cath Mayo

Genre
Mythology

Series
Olympus Trilogy #1

Buy Links
Amazon US
Amazon UK
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Social Media
David Hair
Official Website
Facebook
Twitter

Cath Mayo
Official Website
Facebook
Twitter

DESCRIPTION: 
The first in a thrilling new historical fantasy series; Odysseus must embrace his secret heritage and outwit the vengeful Gods who would control or destroy him…

Prince Odysseus of Ithaca is about to have his world torn apart. He’s travelled to the oracle at Pytho to be anointed as heir to his island kingdom; but instead the Pythia reveals a terrible secret, one that tears down every pillar of his life, and marks him out for death.

Outcast by his family, hunted by the vengeful gods, Odysseus is offered sanctuary by Athena, goddess of wisdom, and thrust into the secret war between the Olympians for domination and survival. Only his wits, and his skill as a warrior, can keep him ahead of their power games – and alive.

When one of Athena’s schemes goes drastically wrong, and the young Helen of Sparta is kidnapped, Odysseus must journey past the gates of Hades to save her. Falling in love with a Trojan princess, a bewitching woman who poses a deadly threat to both his homeland and Athena, won’t make his task any easier…

Drawing from classic Greek mythology, Athena's Champion, first in the epic Olympus series, is perfect for fans of Madeline Miller and David Gemmell.

REVIEW: 
David Hair and Cath Mayo’s Athena’s Champion should come with a disclaimer. I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, but something to like “Warning: This novel is impossible to put down, will very likely leave the reader breathless, and is not recommended for those with conditions that may be aggravated by fast-paced adventure” would be great.

One might think a story about Odysseus would be hard to breathe new life into, but Athena’s Champion is both fresh and creative. Using Theseus’ abduction of Helen as a template, Hair and Mayo craft an imaginative conflict that tangibly threatens both the Gods and those sworn to their service.

The narrative is definitely on the heavier side, but I enjoyed the time I spent with it and look forward to the next installment of the Olympus series.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: October 5, 2018
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