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Category: Romance

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.

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.

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!

 

 

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.

Save

Best of 2016 List

This was a great year for me and books! What with blogging, joining the Litsy community (@annahenke), and just loving the reading life, I’m perfectly content. I read over 120 books in 2016. It’s customary in the blogosphere to do some sort of “Best of” list, and I’m excited to share mine with you. Here’s my list of the best books I read in 2016 by category!

FANTASY

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A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas, A Court of Thorns and Roses #2

I devoured this book! I have loved everything Sarah J. Maas has written so far. The character development in A Court of Mist and Fury is astoundingly good. I really like how Maas handles Feyre’s grief and portrays her PTSD after the events of A Court of Thorns and Roses.  I couldn’t put it down! This is a series that MUST be read in order.

NOTE: This is not a YA book, in my opinion – at least, not in terms of the romance. Full-on steamy. This should have been marketed as adult fantasy.

HISTORICAL FICTION

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Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

What a remarkable story! This fictionalization of the life of trailblazing horse trainer and pilot Beryl Markham blew me away. Set primarily during her formative years and early adulthood in Kenya, this novel about a strong historical woman who wasn’t afraid to smash boundaries is beautifully written. Beryl was flawed but fierce and endured much for “being a woman and daring to think I could be free” (Circling the Sun). I’ve put Beryl’s memoir, West With the Night, on my TBR, and I’m very interested to hear the full story from the woman herself. Beryl was a private person by all accounts, however, so I hear it doesn’t have much in the way of personal relationships, which was a strength of McLain’s fictionalization. But I still need to read it!

MYSTERY

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A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn, Veronica Speedwell Mystery #1

I enjoyed this book so much that I read it twice in one year! I had to prep for the sequel coming out in January 2017. Why I loved it: It’s a Victorian historical mystery featuring an intrepid lady/amateur detective who is also a lepidopterist (specialist on butterflies and moths).  Sold! There is an enigmatic, handsome taxidermist who becomes her reluctant investigative partner. Yes! There is a romance, but it’s very subtle and develops slowly. Just my cup of tea! They take refuge in an abandoned private museum of sorts. Hooray! There is a mystery about the main character’s heritage. Love it! I could go on, but I won’t.

GRAPHIC NOVEL

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The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg

Brilliant! The artwork is amazing and perfectly fits the tone of the story being told. The fictional folktales within are everything one would wish for: clever, funny, poignant, and sweet. I think it’s a must-read for graphic novel fans and a great entry point for newcomers to the format.

AUDIOBOOK

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Jane Steele by Lindsay Faye, Narrated by Susie Riddell

This book was so strange and I loved it. It’s a Jane Eyre-inspired story with a quirky twist: What if Jane had been a serial killer? The tagline for the marketing was, “Reader, I murdered him.” For those unfamiliar with the real Jane Eyre, the most famous line is, “Reader, I married him.” So clever!  I was hooked by the fascinating premise; however, the book was something of a surprise. Jane was  quite likeable. This is in itself is a remarkable achievement for a writer. I consider myself pretty sensitive to violence, and I don’t enjoy unlikeable characters at all, so I was very impressed that Faye pulled that off. Jane kills multiple people (only bad people, mind), but I was still rooting for her in the end. The audiobook is exceptional. I would not have changed a thing.

As a side note, the premise of this book is so bizarre that it makes a great conversation piece. I had about a twenty-minute conversation with my coworkers about it at the company picnic and they all thought I’d gone mad. 🙂

INSPIRATIONAL NONFICTION

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Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

I loved what Nyquist had to say about grace, forgiveness, and shame. I learned so much. Read my review here.

INSPIRATIONAL FICTION

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The Wood’s Edge by Lori Benton, The Pathfinders #1

I was so impressed with the diversity, vigor, and historicity of Benton’s writing in this first chapter of a new family saga. The story is wonderful. Read my review here.

ROMANCE

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A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

I loved this book and look forward to everything Kearsley writes. It contains her signature Scottish history connection, a mystery in a book, and features a beautiful, intelligent heroine who happens to have Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s real, and the romance is so heartwarming and completely believable. Apparently, Susanna’s daughter has Asperger’s, and that shows in the sensitivity and normalcy with which she portrays the social interactions of the main character. I thought it was fantastic! This is a solid, clean romance recommendation.

SCIENCE FICTION

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Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

This one took me a little while to get into, but I was more than amazed by the end of it! Its best qualities are the unorthodox storytelling, the various illustrations, and the gripping action/suspense. I literally gasped at the twists and turns in the last fifty pages. Definitely worth the read! A top-notch YA pick.

That’s all for 2016. 🙂 Happy New Year!

Reading Snapshots: November Fiction

Here’s a look at the fiction I’ve finished lately!

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Book Five in the Wilderness Series

Format: Audiobook

Recommended to fans of Outlander, the Wilderness series is a sweeping historical romance and multigenerational family saga that begins in 1792 and carries on for decades after. The fourth book, Queen of Swords, opens in 1814 and is centered on the rescue of one of the family’s Scottish relatives who has been kidnapped by pirates. The plot also concerns the ongoing War of 1812. I found this part fascinating, as I know so little about that particular war. Why is it such a neglected part of American history? With white, black, and Native American characters, this book also provides an interesting glimpse into race relations during this time period—from day to day life to how each facet of society participated in the war. I liked Queen of Swords, although it took me a few chapters to remember who everyone was and where the last book left off. Like all the Wilderness novels, this book contains a well-balanced mix of action, adventure, and romance. The entire series is excellent narrated by Kate Reading. Unfortunately, Queen of Swords is the weakest book in the series so far—still not a bad book, but hopefully that’s not a trend.

If you’re intrigued, then start at the beginning of the saga with Into the Wilderness!

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Format: Ebook

 A modern classic, Kindred is the story of Dana, a black woman living in the 1970s, who is suddenly and inexplicably pulled into the past whenever one of her ancestors (a white man) is in mortal peril. I love time-travel books, but this one is a tough read. It’s enthralling and devastatingly bleak. Octavia Butler’s writing is plain yet precise; however, I would have liked a bit more detail and depth in some places. Some very ugly truths are played out in this story and it’s an important book, especially given the racial tension and discord in still evident in America today.

Read a full summary on Goodreads!

What I’m Reading Now:

Like a River.jpgLike a River Glorious by Rae Carson. I am loving it as much as I loved the first book in the trilogy, Walk on Earth a Stranger, which was a National Book Award finalist.

Happy reading!

Anna

Reading Snapshots: September 2016

Wow, September flew by! It’s been three weeks since my last post, but the truth is . . . I’ve been busy reading!

BOOKS READ IN SEPTEMBER: 13

New Releases: 4              Backlist TBR Books: 6                 Surprise Finds: 3

Format   

Galleys: 2          Audio: 4              Ebook: 3            Print: 4              Graphic Novel: 1

Other Details:   

Fiction: 11         Nonfiction: 2      Sequels/Series: 3 for #sequelseptember

FAVORITES THIS MONTH:

empire
Read the Goodreads Description

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas, Throne of Glass #5

I absolutely love this series. SJM delivers everything fans love in this fifth installment: romance, action, phenomenal world building, fantastic characters, and so much drama! As usual for this series, this book gutted me emotionally. And that cliffhanger—how can we wait! NOTE: This series gets more explicit with each book. This is categorized as YA, but I wouldn’t recommend it for younger teens.

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A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir, An Ember in the Ashes #2

This is one of the best fantasy series being written today! This latest from Sabaa Tahir is riveting, beautifully crafted and packed with emotion. It’s impossible to talk about this book without spoiling book one, so pick up An Ember in the Ashes STAT if you’re into YA fantasy. I’m so happy that we are getting two more books in this series!

 

nightingale
Read the Goodreads Description

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

I can’t believe it took me this long to read this book. This story of two French sisters during WWII is moving, filled with fascinating historical detail and unputdownable! The audiobook is excellently read and so deserving of the Audie Award it won. If you haven’t picked this one up yet, do it! Confession: I had some bias toward this author based on the covers of her contemporary women’s fiction books. I was so wrong!

 CHRISTIAN FICTION SPOTLIGHT

woodsedge
Read the Goodreads Description

The Wood’s Edge by Lori Benton, The Pathfinders #1

This is a great historical fiction read. Set in the years leading up to the American Revolution, this tale follows the lives of two twins who are separated at birth. Benton presents the fascinating juxtaposition of one twin, raised by his birth mother—a white woman married to an Oneida Indian—and one twin raised by the redcoat officer, who took the newborn from his crib and raised the child in place of their own newborn who died. With gentle romance, well-researched history, and Christian elements, this is a solid read. I’ll be continuing the series. Highly recommended!

 

GALLEY RECAP

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Read the Goodreads Description

A Change of Heart by Sonali Dev

I was completely blown away by this book! I have heard such great things about this author that I requested it on Netgalley without even reading the premise. I went into to it totally blind. Man, was I in for a surprise! This story is dark, difficult, and brutally emotional. It’s so much more than a romance—there’s also a mystery and a crime investigation. It’s about two broken people, finding the courage to help each other heal and love again

 

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Read the Goodreads Description

Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

While I didn’t love this book, I think many teens will enjoy it. I recommend it to fans of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. It has a similar style and fell. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve read so much phenomenal YA fantasy this month, but this didn’t quite deliver on the intriguing premise.

Well, that’s all for now. Participating in the #hellooctober readathon and must get back to my book!

New Release: Between Two Fires by Mark Noce

betweenfiresI found this historical novel—which will especially appeal to fans of Arthurian legends—both accessible and captivating. I couldn’t put it down! A medieval Anglo-Saxon tale set in the late 500s, this is the story of a young Welsh princess born into a cruel world of scheming kings. Branwen is an only child, so the fate of her father’s dynasty rests entirely on her shoulders. Like most noblewomen of the time, she is used as a bargaining chip in a game of kings, like a piece on her father’s chessboard. But Branwen has a strong will and a mind of her own. She will have to overcome many obstacles in order to have the life she desires. . . .

The Publisher’s Summary:

Saxon barbarians threaten to destroy medieval Wales. Lady Branwen becomes Wales’ last hope to unite their divided kingdoms when her father betroths her to a powerful Welsh warlord, the Hammer King. But the fledgling alliance is fraught with enemies from within and without as Branwen becomes the target of assassination attempts and courtly intrigue. A young woman in a world of fierce warriors, she seeks to assert her own authority and preserve Wales against the barbarians. But when she falls for a young hedge knight named Artagan, her world threatens to tear itself apart.

Caught between her duty to her people and her love of a man she cannot have, Branwen must choose whether to preserve her royal marriage or to follow her heart. Somehow she must save her people and remain true to herself, before Saxon invaders and a mysterious traitor try to destroy her.

We follow Lady Branwen as she enters into an arranged marriage to a forbidding warlord and soon finds that her situation is not what she was led to believe. Branwen’s transformation over the course of the novel is empowering and one of the book’s strongest assets. We see her grow from being completely intimidated by her own father to confidently voicing her opinions on military matters—and, eventually, defending herself like a lion from would-be assassins.

While the publisher’s cover copy makes the inevitable Game of Thrones comparison, it’s not a good one in my opinion. For one thing, this novel is a middling length of 336 pages; for another, it is not graphic at all and will, therefore, appeal much more widely. I really appreciated the lack of graphic content in this book, as so many novels set during this era are astoundingly brutal.

I found two things surprising about Between Two Fires. The first was the somewhat abrupt switch in focus to what I would consider a typical historical romance plot in the last third of the novel. Although this is indicated in the cover copy, the tone of the last section just didn’t quite gel with the rest of the novel for me. I think it could have been handled more deftly. NOTE: It is possible that this was fixed in the final book, which I do not have access to. The other surprising aspect was the presentation of religion. Throughout the book, Branwen simultaneously feels great loyalty toward the pagan Old Tribes (her maternal heritage) and Christianity. Noce dives into this internal balancing act in the last part of the book. I found this interesting, even if it did get a little heavy-handed.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and recommend it to fans of historical fiction.

My Favorite Quote:

“They call him the Hammer King. He wears an iron mask into battle and wields a war hammer said to have slain a hundred foes. My nightmares of late consist of a shadowy, faceless blacksmith. Each evening he swings a massive hammer down upon the anvil of my heart.”—Lady Branwen, on the eve of her arranged marriage

Comparable Reads: These are more heavy on the history but excellent if you’re into this time period. I’d recommend all three, depending on your commitment and comfort with historical detail.
The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick
Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell
Hild by Nicola Griffith

Thank you to the publisher, Bloomsbury USA, for the review copy I received through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This last bit contains spoilers, so stop scrolling now if you plan to read the book!

 

 

****SPOILER ALERT!****

I had two qualms with Between Two Fires. The first is that the galley didn’t contain a historical note, which is essential for all works of historical fiction. The second is how neatly everything was tied up in the end. I realize that romance typically necessitates a happily ever after, but the presentation felt very sudden and kind of forced. It was still a good read, but it felt so unrealistic that it knocked me right out of the story. NOTE: It is possible that these elements were fixed in the final book.