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Category: Fiction

Book Review: A Secret History of Witches

Hello, readers!

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a traditional book review, but I’m back and ready to report on what I’m reading and what you should be reading, too! You can expect to see a more balanced output of posts on lifestyle, literature, and faith coming from me this fall. I’m starting mid-month, but September is the other January – so here we go!

And now . . . the review. I would like to thank the publisher, Orbit Books, for providing me with a digital advanced copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I was so excited to be approved as this book is SO in my wheelhouse. A historical family saga about witches? Yes, please. Give me all the access.

Here’s the copy from Goodreads:

After Grandmére Ursule gives her life to save her tribe, her magic seems to die with her. Even so, her family keeps the Old Faith, practicing the spells and rites that have been handed from mother to daughter for generations. Until one day, Ursule’s young granddaughter steps into the circle, and magic flows anew.

From early 19th century Brittany to London during the Second World War, five generations of witches fight the battles of their time, deciding how far they are willing to go to protect their family, their heritage, and ultimately, all of our futures.

Sounds great, right? I have been hesitant to write this review because, honestly, A Secret History of Witches theoretically rang all my bells but failed to live up to my expectations. This was a so-so read for me. I’m not sorry I read it. However, it’s not going to be a book that I recommend. The writing is solid. It’s the story and character development that is problematic.

Although I typically love family sagas, this one is composed of stories that are too similar. The five women all have the same struggles and basic journey, so it felt like I was reading the same story again and again. Also, their stories felt incomplete. Each character’s journey was cut off just when it was getting interesting to make way for the next character. In order to fulfill my expectations, this book would have had to have been significantly longer.

Another issue I had is that the women are so unlikable! The majority are selfish, vain, ungrateful things. I just couldn’t handle it. I appreciate that this book featured a cast of independent women. I like to see that in my fiction. But in this case, it wasn’t a positive representation, which is unfortunate.

I would have loved to have seen the author delve deeper into the historical time periods, and explore how this factored in to change things for each individual character more, as the blurb implies. I thought this plot aspect was underdeveloped in the actual book.

Another reader might really enjoy this book. It’s well-written in a technical sense and has a beautiful cover to draw the reader in. It just wasn’t for me.

Anna

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New Release Tuesday: The Girl Who Knew Too Much by Amanda Quick

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When Hollywood moguls and stars want privacy, they head to the exclusive Burning Cove Hotel . That’s where reporter Irene Glasson finds herself staring down at a beautiful actress at the bottom of a pool.

Seeking the truth, Irene finds herself drawn to the mysterous Oliver Ward. Formerly a world-famous magician and now the owner of the Burning Cove Hotel, Oliver can’t let scandal threaten his livelihood, even if it means trusting Irene.

With Oliver’s help, Irene soon learns that the glamorous paradise of Burning Cove hides dark and dangerous secrets. And that the past—always just out of sight—could drag them both under…

Overall, I found this a fun, fast read and a satisfying mystery/romance novel. It wasn’t perfect, but it was very enjoyable, with some gasp-worthy moments and a hero that I fell for. Oliver is handsome, in control, and has a very interesting backstory. He also has a disabled leg, and I’m always here for a non-cookie-cutter romantic hero. Most importantly, he’s a gentleman, not an alpha male.

The mystery—I should say, mysteries—were intriguing and kept me turning the pages. The Girl Who Knew Too Much has a lot of deaths in it, but Quick’s storytelling never gets too dark. I give the romance a moderate heat rating of 3/5 stars, with just one heated scene containing an explicit reference that soon fades to black.

I read this in two sittings and was completely content. Readers who are willing to go along for the ride will love it! Having read and liked ‘Til Death Do Us Part, I got exactly what I was expecting.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

A Twist in Time by Julie McElwain

Twist in Time

Former FBI agent Kendra Donovan’s attempts to return to the twenty-first century have failed, leaving her stuck at Aldridge Castle in 1815. And her problems have just begun: in London, the Duke of Aldridge’s nephew Alec—Kendra’s confidante and lover—has come under suspicion for murdering his former mistress, Lady Dover, who was found viciously stabbed with a stiletto, her face carved up in a bizarre and brutal way.

 As the noose tightens around Alec’s neck, Kendra will do anything to save him, including following every twist and turn through London’s glittering ballrooms, where deception is the norm—and any attempt to uncover the truth will get someone killed.

 I really enjoyed A Murder in Time and was eager to pick up the next Kendra Donovan Mystery: It did not disappoint! A Twist in Time is such a fun adventure. Kendra is a strong female character with a clear objective to return to her own time. She remains committed to this goal even when her situation is complicated by a romance while she is stuck in the past. One of the things I appreciate about Julie McElwain’s writing is that her novels are fast-paced and don’t take themselves too seriously. I need that every now and again in a mystery, as so much of this genre is incredibly dark—and that’s just not my cup of tea. A Twist in Time has a gruesome murder at its heart, but I wouldn’t call the novel dark. It’s light in tone, and the romance is pretty clean. This series is for all those, like me, who don’t want to get into the violence and horror of many thrillers and mysteries today. I was hoping to see a bit more resolution in this installment for Kendra, but overall I liked the book a lot. The romance developed nicely in this second book, and I look forward to book three! Fans of Deanna Raybourn will find much to enjoy. Check it out for yourself!

Until next time,

Anna

Reading Snapshots: Four Books You Should Pick Up

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The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams

I thoroughly enjoyed The Wicked City! The novel features two narratives connected by the New York City building in which they take place—one is set in the 1920s, one in the 1990s. The stories each had their own flavor and individual aspects that I loved. The characters are true to life, the setting is vividly rendered, and both timelines are equally engaging. I breezed through this novel in a single sitting! I thought the romance could have used a little more building up but really liked the book overall. The folks at William Morrow wrote up an excellent blurb for this book, and as a copywriter I can appreciate a job well done. Here’s their teaser:

New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams recreates the New York City of A Certain Age in this deliciously spicy adventure that mixes past and present and centers on a Jazz age love triangle involving a rugged Prohibition agent, a saucy redheaded flapper, and a debonair Princetonian from a wealthy family.

 Thank you, William Morrow, for providing me with an ARC of this book!

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Someone to Hold by Mary Balogh

Westcott #2

This is such a sweet romance! Mary Balogh shines in this tale of family, self-worth, and the love we choose to accept. Centered on an orphanage in Bath, England, Someone to Hold features two protagonists who live with the social stigma of being illegitimate. After a terrible first impression, the two become reluctant friends and eventually—spoiler alert!—fall in love. I particularly enjoyed the many facets of the female protagonist, Camille. She has far more depth than your average romance heroine! I also found her current situation and Joel’s long-term experience growing up as an orphan to be a fascinating and thought-provoking contrast. Note: This is technically book two in the Westcott series, but I didn’t read book one and felt no confusion.

The premise:

Humphrey Wescott, Earl of Riverdale, has died, leaving behind a fortune and a scandalous secret that will forever alter the lives of his family—sending one daughter on a journey of self-discovery. . . .

Thanks to Berkley Books for giving me access to an ARC via netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

 A Veronica Speedwell Mystery

This was simply delightful!
*witty banter to the max
*Victorian murder mystery
*art colony + Hellfire Club + opium den
*will they or won’t they?
*I don’t even care, I love them just as they are!

Who are they? The grouchiest, most eccentric and outlandish pair of natural-scientist-amateur-investigators in London. Do look them up!

(But be sure to start with the first Veronica Speedwell Mystery, A Curious Beginning. Read my review here.)

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The Abundance by Annie Dillard

Wow. This collection from masterful essayist Annie Dillard was beautiful, crisp, and very inspiring to me as a writer. The prose, the metaphors, the way she describes things—nature, especially—is absolutely breathtaking. If you are at all interested in exposing yourself to a whole new level of literary talent, this book of essays is your introduction to a pro.

Graphic Novel Review: Wires and Nerve #1,written by Marissa Meyer and illustrated by Doug Holgate

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If you haven’t read THE LUNAR CHRONICLES by Marissa Meyer, check out my previous Series Starter blog post to see why it’s worth reading!

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Wires and Nerve, Volume 1

written by Marissa Meyer and illustrated by Doug Holgate

Today I’m recommending the graphic novel, Wires and Nerve, Volume 1, which follows up this series and the short story collection Stars Above. Wires and Nerve wasn’t as good as getting another novel for me—but only because I’m not a huge graphic novel person. It was great seeing all my favorite characters again, especially because we got so much more of Iko!

The artwork was fantastic, and I thought the color scheme was perfect for the story. The cool shades of blue are so fitting for the Lunar world. Of course, the characters weren’t quite as I imagined but were wonderfully drawn. I hadn’t realized at first that this was just the first volume of an ongoing series, but I’ll gladly continue reading them. This is a must-read for all Marissa Meyer fans.

Book Details:

Hardcover, 240 pages | Published January 31, 2017

Buy it from BN!

Buy it from Amazon!

 

 

Review: Daughter of a Thousand Years by Amalia Carosella

This book took hold of me and wouldn’t let go!

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Greenland, AD 1000

More than her fiery hair marks Freydís as the daughter of Erik the Red; her hot temper and fierce pride are as formidable as her Viking father’s. And so, too, is her devotion to the great god Thor, which puts her at odds with those in power—including her own brother, the zealous Leif Eriksson. Determined to forge her own path, she defies her family’s fury and clings to her dream of sailing away to live on her own terms, with or without the support of her husband.

New Hampshire, 2016

Like her Icelandic ancestors, history professor Emma Moretti is a passionate defender of Norse mythology. But in a small town steeped in traditional values, her cultural beliefs could jeopardize both her academic career and her congressman father’s reelection. Torn between public expectation and personal identity, family and faith, she must choose which to honor and which to abandon.

A dual-time narrative with a historical spotlight on the Norse sagas, this is a page-turner with a light touch of romance and contemporary politics. Daughter of a Thousand Years is well written, very compelling, and extremely enjoyable. It has  relevant things to say about respecting religious freedom. I recommend it!

I found Amalia Carosella’s historical timeline richly imagined, as fierce as Freydis herself, and as harsh as might be expected. The writing in Daughter of a Thousand Years is great, and, at first, I found the alternating historical and contemporary chapters equally intriguing. But I have to admit that I quickly became frustrated with Freydis as a character. I admired her loyalty to her father and her personal strength. Yet I found her attitude toward being a woman troublesome and her moral choices to be, in almost every case, highly objectionable. However, the Vikings have always fascinated me, and the pull of a Norse saga re-imagined was enough for me to continue with the story.

While the historical plot is intriguing on an epic scale, it was the more personal contemporary drama that really drew me in. As the daughter of a congressman during a re-election year, Emma is in the public eye when a controversy in her classroom turns into a scandal that shakes her family—and her father’s campaign—to its core. From one religious student’s comment to another’s well-intentioned effort to reach out, Emma has to navigate how much to say and how much of herself to reveal not just to the public but to the man that she’s just starting to fall for. The secret was surprising to me—although perhaps it wouldn’t have been if I had read the cover copy more carefully. But I’m glad that I didn’t. If I had, I’m embarrassed to say that I likely would’ve written this book off, and that would’ve been my loss.

Daughter of a Thousand Years presents the very relevant subject of religious freedom both in AD 1000 Greenland and today from the perspective of about the smallest minority you can imagine. The author Amalia Carosella and her two heroines all identify themselves religiously as Heathen. I want be very clear that I use that not as a derogatory term but respectfully, deliberately following the example of the author in using it as a proper noun. As my regular readers will know, I am a Christian and hold my beliefs close to my heart. It is my observation that this author does the same with her own faith.

That being said, I have a confession to make: I requested this advanced readers copy mainly because it was a dual-time narrative (I love those) and had a Viking-set storyline. I didn’t realize that the main contemporary heroine, Emma, literally worshiped Thor. While I have my own opinions about this set of beliefs, the author was very authentic in her representation of both the good and the bad actions of Christian people in her novel—and was so respectful in her discussion of religious freedom in general—that I have nothing further to add to what is in the book. I’ll just say this one thing: It’s hard to write about religious differences and not be offensive so I give Amalia Carosella mad props for that.

Thank you to Lake Union Publishing for the opportunity to read and review an advanced copy of this book. My apologies that it’s a little late in getting out to the world! This book was released on February 21, 2017, and is now available wherever books are sold.

Buy it on Barnes and Noble!

Buy it on Amazon!

 

 

New Release Tuesday: The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon (The Bone Season #3)

Source: Netgalley – Thank you, Bloomsbury USA! I received a free eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Release Day: TODAY! March 7, 2017

I could not wait to get my hands on The Song Rising and was lucky enough to get an early copy. I absolutely LOVED the first two novels in this series, The Bone Season and The Mime Order.

Here’s a summary of the first book in the series with no spoilers:

Set in a future England with a fantasy twist, the series follows “dreamwalker” Paige Mahoney, but her abilities are a dangerous secret. It is not legal to practice clairvoyance in Scion-controlled London. It is not even legal to be clairvoyant. The powerful “mime lord” Jaxon Hall employs her, but even he can’t protect her when she is attacked, kidnapped, and transported to the secret slave city of Oxford. There she learns the terrible truth about the forces behind Scion: an otherworldly race known as the Rephaim.

Paige is assigned to Warden, a Rephaite with mysterious motives. He is her master. Her trainer. Her natural enemy. But if Paige wants to regain her freedom she must allow herself to be nurtured in this prison where she is meant to die.

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Go to Goodreads!

mimeGo to Goodreads!!

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The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon

As this is the third book in the series, the rest of this post has spoilers.

You have been warned.

Let’s talk about The Song Rising.

It was fine. I know—that’s not what I was expecting to say either. I probably would have classified it as good (3/5) if I hadn’t had such high expectations after books one and two. However, I committed to the review on Netgalley, and it was good enough that I’m planning to continue reading the series. Overall, I give it 2.5/5 stars, which is my “it was fine” equivalent. As a result, this is going to be a more critical review than what I usually post. The qualifier that I will state here, for the record, is that my criteria for this author is higher than usual because I expect more from her. The first two books in this series are two of my favorites, so perhaps I’m being overly harsh. But I know what this author is capable of, so I know she can do better!

Publisher’s Summary

Following a bloody battle against foes on every side, Paige Mahoney has risen to the dangerous position of Underqueen, ruling over London’s criminal population. But, having turned her back on Jaxon Hall and with vengeful enemies still at large, the task of stabilizing the fractured underworld has never seemed so challenging. Little does Paige know that her reign may be cut short by the introduction of Senshield, a deadly technology that spells doom for the clairvoyant community and the world as they know it. . . . . (read the rest on Goodreads)

I’ve acknowledged already how much I was looking forward to returning to the world that Samantha Shannon has created and finding out what happens next. However, since she took an extra year to write this book, I admit I expected more. I read this as a galley, but it was immediately apparent that this book is significantly shorter than the other two. Length is not necessarily an issue if the narrative is tight, but The Song Rising also had pacing issues. I was completely immersed in the first two novels in this series, both of which I was unable to put down. This one I didn’t feel as drawn to continue.

That being said, there were still glimpses of the Samantha Shannon we’ve seen before. There are some gripping action-adventure scenes in The Song Rising. These were the bits that kept me turning pages. You want to know what did not? The relationship between Paige and Arcturus. EVEN THOUGH THEY’RE MY FAVORITE PART! Why, you ask? Because their relationship was so static that it barely existed. (Insert dramatic sigh here of disappointment here.)

I found Paige so annoying in this book, and I really liked her before! Her struggle to be a leader may have been more realistic than in a lot of fiction, but it made it hard to root for her as a character. Her inability to see herself as a leader also felt unconvincing, as she’s proven herself several times over at this point. Then, she suddenly accepts her position and goes in way too strong and it’s kind of a shock. Arcturus is unquestionably my favorite character and there is still so much we don’t know about him. I liked learning a little more about his history in this book. It just needed more Arcturus in general. We also learned more about some secondary characters, which I enjoyed. I found Cutthroat especially fascinating! There were other parts that I liked, but it was the less pleasing stuff that stuck with me. I do feel for Samantha. The pressure on her must have been huge. Unfortunately, this one just didn’t do it for me. But I’m not giving up on her yet!

Redeeming Quality:

The Song Rising ended with a promising set up for the next book.

Questions to Ponder:

What is the best thing that could happen at this point, now that the world is being taken over by Scion? Is there even a solution?

Where are all the regular non-extremist people? I feel like there is room for a broader resistance beyond those directly affected by Oxford. There have to be some people out there who aren’t buying all this Scion crap, right?

Predictions for future books, anyone?

~ Anna

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Books for Your TBR Pile!

Hello, readers! I’m trying something new today. I didn’t finish any books this past week! So instead of a review, I’m sharing a list of some anticipated future reads. I hope you find something that sounds intriguing.

Recently Added to My To-Be-Read List:

The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett

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Average Goodreads Rating: 4.03

Published: February 28, 2017 by Viking

Source: Publishers Weekly listing

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Bookman’s Tale comes a new novel about an obsessive bibliophile’s quest through time to discover a missing manuscript, the unknown history of an English Cathedral, and the secret of the Holy Grail. SOLD!

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The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn by Lori Benton

Average Goodreads Rating: 4.29

Published: April 29, 2014 by WaterBrook

Source: Fan of the author

Western North Carolina, 1787 ~ To escape a threatening stepfather and an unwanted marriage, Tamsen Littlejohn enlists the aid of Jesse Bird, a frontiersman she barely knows, to spirit her away from Morganton, North Carolina, west beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Trouble pursues, as the two men intent on seeing her recovered prove relentless in their hunt. . . . Gaining the freedom she longs for will mean running yet again, to the most unlikely refuge imaginable—the Cherokees, a people balanced on the knife edge of war.

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Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Average Goodreads Rating: 4.08

Published: October 21, 2008 by Atheneum

Source: Heard wonderful things about this book and the author

As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight . . . for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom.

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Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

Average Goodreads Rating: 4.05

Published: May 3, 2016 by Atria Books

Source: Litsy

From the bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, a heartwarming and hilarious story of a reluctant outsider who transforms a tiny village and a woman who finds love and second chances in the unlikeliest of places.

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Gracious: A Practical Primer on Charm, Tact, and Unsinkable Strength by Kelly Williams Brown

Average Goodreads Rating: 4.00

To-Be-Published: April 18, 2017 by Rodale Books

Source: Saw it on Goodreads

From New York Times bestselling author of Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps Kelly Williams Brown comes a funny, charming guide to modern civility in these—yes, we’ll say it—rather uncivil times.

Throughout the book, she provides tips on how to deal with the people and circumstances that challenge even the most socially graceful among us, advice on how to practice graciousness in everyday life, and thoughtful discussions on being kind to those around you without ever losing your sense of self.

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Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Average Goodreads Rating: 4.24

Published: April 5, 2016 by Simon and Schuster

Source: Listening to The Kitchen House now and loving it! I heard about that book through a trusted bookish friend.

From the author of the New York Times bestseller and beloved book club favorite The Kitchen House, a novel of family and long-buried secrets along the treacherous Underground Railroad.

Jamie Pyke, son of both a slave and master of Tall Oakes, has a deadly secret that compels him to take a treacherous journey through the Underground Railroad.

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Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Hello, readers! How is your February going? Mine has been flying by! I have been more social this month and have been doing a little less reading. Nevertheless, I couldn’t let another week go by without a new post. So without further ado, here’s my top fiction recommendation for the month of February

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Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

With spare prose, underplayed emotion, and true-to-life dialogue, this brief small-town novel about two older adults seeking companionship is incredibly moving and a pleasure to read. Widow Addie Moore reaches out to her neighbor, Louis Waters—also a widower—with a bold proposition. Might he want to come and sleep over at her house sometime so the two of them could have someone to talk to before bed? As they begin their unusual arrangement, Addie and Louis find real friendship, talking about their lives and their pasts as they fall asleep side-by-side. Then they start spending time together during the day and word spreads in town—and gossip starts circulating. Things get more complicated when their adult children make their opinions known about their friendship. Throughout the book, the dialogue between Addie and Louis is companionably easy yet poignant. They discuss hard memories with frankness and trust. I love how quiet Our Souls at Night is. There is little action, but there is depth and truth.

I listened to the audiobook of this novel, which I highly recommend. It is read by a gentleman with an even, kind of grandpa-like voice. The narrator, Mark Bramhall, could not have done a better job. As the novel is mostly dialogue, it is an ideal book to listen to and is only three and a half hours long.

What have you been reading lately? Let me know in the comments!

YA Fantasy: Three Dark Crowns and The Lie Tree

Hello, world!

What with the new year, new commitments, and, as it happens, my birthday (which was lovely), this month has been kind of a whirlwind. I haven’t read as much as usual. Still, I’ve always got something going. Here are my thoughts on the YA fantasy I read this month:

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Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

I was completely enthralled by this story! In this fantasy world, a set of triplets is born to the royal family every generation. These three sisters become three queens, who are separated at a young age and brought up to one day fight each other to the death. One is a poisoner, one is a an “elemental,” and one is a “naturalist.” (AKA, they are all magical.) I really enjoyed the way this book progressed. I thought it was well written and liked how the narrative changed POV with each chapter, alternating between the three sisters. The character development was excellent, and I couldn’t decide which queen I was rooting for until the very end. It has some twists and turns that will take you by surprise. This book is the beginning of a series, so the end is just the starting point of the, for lack of a better word, festivities. They each have one year to kill the other two. The last one standing reigns supreme. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

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The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

This is a beautifully-written, tangled-twisty mess of feminism, deception, and shame. WOW. The Lie Tree is starkly true in so many moments. There are some wonderfully insightful quotes within. I was riveted by how this book portrayed the way lies take on a life of their own and the power that even the smallest fib can wield over our lives and the lives of those around us. The main character Faith, who is fascinated by the science her father practices, is constantly surrounded by temptations in a world that denies her own intelligence and right to have a voice. To listen at the door. To read her father’s books. To say what she thinks. So when she learns of the lie tree, Faith takes that voice and uses it with unforeseen and dangerous consequences. Her intentions weren’t necessarily bad to begin with. She tells herself that she is only doing it to learn the truth about her father–but is that really all there is to it? She becomes entranced by the lie tree. It makes her feel powerful.

The 1860s is the perfect setting for this book–religion and science were seemingly at odds and at the forefront of the public’s mind in the aftermath of Darwin’s On the Origins of Species. There’s a lot to unpack here in terms of the book’s obvious religious parallels, but I’ll keep it brief. At times I could feel my stomach roiling at what was happening in the story, and I even recognized examples of false logic that I have thought to myself within my inner dialog. It was surprisingly revelatory. The parallel between Hardinge’s lie tree and the Scriptural Tree of Knowledge is obvious but not preachy, blatant without being doctrinal. I highly recommend this excellent book.

“Death and life [are] in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” Proverbs 18:21

That’s all for now. Ta ta!