Thursday, May 30, 2013

Shadow of Night Giveaway Winner Is....

We have a winner!  Zen Goddess!  You have won a paperback copy of Shadow of Night.  

Send me your contact information and soon you'll be diving into the world of Diana and Matthew and their next adventures.

Thanks to everyone who entered.  Watch for more giveaways this summer.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway

After reading The Rook last year (my favorite book of 2012) I was pretty sure I wouldn't find another book quite as entertaining this year; it's hard to find a good blending of sci-fi, humor, and fantasy lately.  

But lo and behold, I found it in The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway.  This book takes all the things I love about a few different genres and puts them together in one story.  And for a first time author, I am pretty impressed!

I don't want to give a lot away, so I'll give you a brief overview of the plot:  Lord Nicholas Falcott is fighting in Spain in 1812 during the Napoleonic Wars.  Just as he's about to be killed, he finds himself lying in a strange room with a man telling him he's now in 2003 and has "jumped" through time.  

Move ahead ten years. He's now  Nick Davenant, it's 2013, he lives in Vermont, is incredibly wealthy, and part of the Guild.  The Guild is a group of people who can move through time--jump into the 'river'.  They help others who jump, giving them money to live on, acclimate them to their new lives, and have a few rules:  you can never go back to your place of origin, you can never go back in time.  For Nick, that means he can never go back to England.  

Until he gets a letter from the Guild.  

The letter says "catch a plane to England NOW."

So Nick's adventure begins.  He finds out that yes, you can jump back in time, and he's being recruited to jump back to 1815 in order to find out who is manipulating the future--with dire consequences.  He returns to find Julia Percy, his neighbor--and the one vision he has kept to himself from his old life.  They reconnect, and the passion is white hot from the first moment they meet again.  

But Julia has a secret of her own, and her secret is part of why Nick has returned.  Can he save her from those who are searching for her?  Can she learn to protect herself before others can harm her?  

There is a lot to this story.  Romance, of course; action, adventure, and time travel.  But there is also the struggle Nick has of returning to a life he thought was long gone, and people he has mourned as long dead.  Now suddenly they are there, fully alive, and he's mysteriously returned from Spain after being presumed dead in battle.  His conflicted feelings at returning to his old life as the Marquess of Blackdown and his new life as a modern man  in 2013 give a depth to the character that could have easily been left out--but it would have left a lack of empathy for Nick's character.  But in keeping this inner conflict a part of Nick's return to 1815 he is definitely a fully sketched character you root for all through the story.  And his love for Julia is quite lovely--deep and lasting over two centuries.  Nick's sisters are great additions to the storyline and pull Julia into the family circle, which moves the plot along.  

I certainly enjoyed this novel.  What a nice change of pace from the usual historical novels.  This has a great twist, memorable characters, and an ending that leaves you hoping for more.  There's a lot of questions left unanswered about  the Guild, the future, and where Nick and Julia will end up--in 1815 or in 2013.  I could definitely see this as a trilogy.

Rating:  7/10 Great idea and mix of genres.  Nick is a well drawn character; you can sympathize, laugh, and cheer him on in this novel.  And Julia's growth from a clueless young lady to a tough cookie is also part of what makes this  a great story.

Available in hardcover and ebook.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Shadow of Night Giveaway! Yes, You Can Win!

I know fans of Deborah Harkness have been eagerly awaiting the third novel in her All Souls Trilogy.  But until that time, you can read the second novel in the series, Shadow of Night.  It's out in paperback on Tuesday, May 28th--just in time for the start of summer reading!

And...you can win a copy of the paperback.  Yep.  It's super easy.  Here's how:

1.  Leave a comment on this post and tell me what book you can't wait to read this summer (besides Shadow of Night).

I told you it was easy!  I will leave this contest open until Wednesday, May 29th. 

So what are you waiting for?  Leave a comment and enter the giveaway.  Winner will be announced on Thursday, May 30th. 

****US residents only****

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio

There are a few authors that I will automatically read whenever they have a new book published.  Sarah Jio is one of those authors.  I've read all of her books, and love her mix of history and mystery.  

The Last Camellia is Sarah's latest, and it involves a rare camellia, the Middlebury Pink.  It was long thought extinct, but one does exist; on the Livingston estate in England.  Here's where the past and the present come together and the story of Flora and Addison blend.

Flora's story begins in 1940.  She's a young American with an interest in botany; she works in her parent's bakery in New York City.  She is contacted by a ring of botany thieves to travel to England and find the mysterious Middlebury Pink on the Livingston estate.  Plans are to remove it and sell it to a Nazi officer for his girlfriend.  Flora hates to do it, but the lure of money to help her parents in their struggle to survive leads her to accept the job.  She finds herself on a ship to England, and the nasty Mr. Price is also on the ship, making sure she doesn't slip up and change her mind.

Once in England, Flora finds out she's been hired as the new nanny to the four Livingston children.  Their mother, Lady Anna, has died and the kids are uncontrollable.  Lady Anna was an American who love camellia trees and started an orchard of the trees on the estate.  Somewhere in that orchard is the Middlebury Pink that Flora has to find.  But how will she do it?  And as she gets to know and love the children, will she be able to betray the family and steal?

Addison Sinclair is our present day gardener.  She lives in New York City with her husband Rex and is a budding garden designer.  She has a secret past that is rearing it's ugly head:  a horrible man is released from prison and is calling her, threatening to tell her husband everything if she doesn't give him money.  Afraid for her life, she convinces Rex to travel to England for the summer to live at--you guessed it--Livingston estate.  Rex's parents have just purchased the estate, are traveling abroad, and are happy to have Addison and Rex stay all summer.  

Addison is there only a short time before she begins to feel there is a mystery surrounding the estate.  The housekeeper, Mrs. Dilloway, has been in charge of the house for 70 years; she knows every secret and won't tell much.  As Addison explores, she soon finds Lady Anna's secret:  a large conservatory built in the middle of the house, where she grew orchids, flowering vines, and lemon trees.  And she discovers a book Lady Anna put together about the camellia orchard, along with newspaper clippings about the disappearances of local women during the late 1930's.  Did Lady Anna discover something that lead to her death?

The story moves back and forth between Flora in 1940 and Addison in contemporary times.  Both are beginning to piece together the puzzle of Lady Anna's death, while still trying to find a solution to the sticky situations they find themselves in with no seemingly easy way out.  Will Flora confess to why she was sent to Livingston?  Can Addison escape Sean, the horrible criminal from her past?  The stories of the two women do tie together neatly, with an ending that will make you anxious for Flora and hopeful for Addison.  

If you're looking for a quick summer read full of floral information, a little bit of history, and a little bit of mystery, this is one to put in your tote for the vacation.  I always recommend Sarah Jio to people who want a good, solid story that keeps moving along and keeps the reader engaged and caring about the characters.  

Rating:  7/10 for characters, setting, and the information about camellias.  A solid read!  

Available in paperback, e-book, and audio.

Monday, May 20, 2013

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

I just had to read another teen book in the midst of all my other reads.  This book combined the terror of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic, World War I, and spiritualism.  All together they make a great story that was hard to put down.  I read it in a day.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds is the story of Mary Shelley Black, a 16 year old girl who is sent to live with her Aunt Eva in San Diego after her father is arrested for treason and put in jail.  The time:  October, 1918.  The influenza epidemic is ravaging the United States.  Everyone is wearing masks; people are dying so fast undertakers can't keep up with the demand for coffins and burials.  People are fine one day, dead the next.  Schools are closed, businesses are empty, and everyone is frightened they will be next.  

World War I is also raging over in Europe--so imagine having a huge epidemic happening, and a world war going on at the same time.  I wonder how people got through such a horrible experience.  Mary Shelley arrives at her Aunt's house and hopes to stay only a short time--her father will surely get out of jail quickly, and then she can go home to Portland.  

Meanwhile, Mary Shelley's childhood friend, Stephen has been living on Coronado Island, but joined the Army and left for Europe to fight.  She travels to the island to visit his brother, Julius--a famous spiritual photographer.  He claims to capture the image of dead loves ones in photos; he's grown immensely popular and people wait for hours outside his studio to have their photo taken.  Stephen and Julius did not get along at all, and Mary Shelley doesn't care for him.  But, last time she was there, he took a photo of her and then used it to advertise his studio.  She's become a bit famous as "that girl".  Mary Shelley is furious and reluctantly returns to his studio with her Aunt Eva.  She is worried about Stephen, who has stopped writing letters from France.  She hopes to get news of him from his mother or brother.  

But--horribly, Stephen is dead.  He died in France during battle, and Mary Shelley is devastated.  Angry, she returns home and daringly goes outside during a thunderstorm and is hit by lightening.  She undergoes a bizarre out of body experience--sees herself lying on the lawn, to all intents and purposes she's dead.  

But she has to go back, and when she does, she finds that she can communicate with Stephen.  He is full of anger, fear, and claims the blackbirds are killing him.  His confusion and fury are hard to handle, and Mary Shelley is determined to put him to rest.  But what she uncovers will surprise you!

I won't say anymore.  Promise.  It has an interesting ending; not what I had planned on reading.  But a great ending at that!  The whole cyclone of flu epidemic, communication with the dead, and World War I all come together to illustrate the horror of war and mass death.  This was the beginning of weapons of mass destruction, and it left humanity knocked on it's knees.  The author does a very good job of tying everything together into a cohesive story. The atmosphere is full of fear, distrust, and grief.  The smells of onions, death, the powder of the camera, and sulfur permeate the pages of this book and put you firmly in the time and place.  

I hope this author writes more novels, cause this one was impressive.  The black and white photos throughout the novel help emphasize the horrid time of late 1918, when the world really did appear to be ending.  

Rating:  8/10 for an excellent story idea, great use of atmosphere and photos of the flu epidemic.  The type print in the novel, the use of black pages, and a strong main character all combine to make an unforgettable read.

Available in hardcover and  ebook.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Big Girl Panties by Stephanie Evanovich

I received this ARC from work and was excited to read it--just the perfect escape novel for a stressful May.

I hate to say it, but I was disappointed.  I have been thinking about what left it flat for me, and I can't pinpoint exactly what it is about Holly and Logan that disappointed me.

The basic storyline is this:  Holly is overweight, and meets Logan on a flight back to New Jersey after she's been in Canada settling her late husband's estate.  Logan is a hot, popular personal trainer who is well known in the sports world and owns his own training center in New Jersey.  He can pick and choose who he works with, and makes a lot of money doing it.  He's also in incredible shape and doesn't have much sympathy for Holly, who barely fits into the seat next to him on the plane.

Holly quickly decides to crack jokes about the obvious, hoping to make the situation a little better for herself.  Soon Logan realizes she's overweight because of taking care of her ailing husband, and feels terrible for judging her appearance.  He offers to train her, and get her in shape.  Holly accepts, and the state is set for a possible romance.

But the romance doesn't move along for awhile--after all, Logan is an extremely fit stud who has one kind of woman--tall, blonde, and skinny.  Holly is short, overweight, and a red-head.  But she has a smart ass mouth and a laugh that soon has Logan looking forward to their sessions at the gym as their friendship grows.

Enter Logan's friends, Chase and Amanda.  Chase is a college buddy who's a famous baseball player, and Amanda is his adoring wife.  Their relationship takes up a huge amount of the book, which I thought took away from Logan and Holly.  And yes, Logan finds himself growing attracted to Holly, but only as she slims down.  He realizes she will never be a "skinny" type no matter how hard she exercises, but she has become much fitter and in great shape.  He begins to lust after her pretty much all the time, and can't wrap his head around it.  He's always picked a certain kind of woman, and Holly is the complete opposite.  He doesn't want to fall in love, and fights it every step of the way.  Of course Holly is head over heels for Logan, but afraid to show it.

As in all romances, misunderstandings abound, feelings remain hidden, and there's lots of hot sex.  The whole spanking thing was kinda dumb to me--not necessary at all.   I think it was the writing  that bothered me.  It felt stilted and had too much conversation between characters that was unnecessary.  Boo hoo!  I really wanted to like this one.

Rating:  4/10.  The intent was good, but the writing and the perfection of Logan was a bit off.  And too much attention was paid to his friends Chase and Amanda.

Available July 9th in hardcover, audio, and e-book format.

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

How can you not love this cover?  It is stunning.  And yes, that is a woman in 20's dress standing on the plains in Africa.  Just go with it.  

I haven't had the pleasure of reading Deanna Raybourn before, so I am glad I waited until A Spear of Summer Grass to introduce myself to her writing.  What a fantastic way to spend a few hours away from the humdrum of Iowa and into the thrills, beauty, savagery, and mystery of Africa in the 1920's.  

Delilah Drummond is a young socialite who has already been married three times (widowed twice, divorced once), lives the high life in Paris and London, and looks like a typical "fun" gal--lots of gin and tonics, beautiful dresses, and dancing.  But Delilah holds much more than you would expect--and that's just what thoroughly captured my attention reading this novel.  

Delilah has gotten herself into a bit of a scandal, and her mother (even more of a social butterfly than Delilah) has demanded she leave the social scene and let things quiet down.  Delilah is sent to Africa, where her step-father has a bit of land and a lovely home named Fairlight overlooking Lake Wanyama.  Delilah soon travels to Fairlight with her cousin Dora to stay and let the scandal blow over.  

Enter Ryder White.  He's one macho man, and a stark contrast to the other white men who Delilah meets in Africa.  He's scarred, tanned, tough, and part of Africa.  He doesn't take crap from anyone.  Instant attraction.  But both Delilah and Ryder hide a lot behind their facades, and this relationship is going to take some work.  

Meanwhile, you get to know Delilah.  From the first few pages, you  get the impression she's a real spoiled brat with not a care for anyone or anything.  But you quickly learn there are depths to Delilah that endear her to you.  She's a society woman--that's for sure.  But she also isn't afraid of getting dirty, using a gun, or eating whatever is put in front of her.  She's stunned by the beauty of the land around her, and quickly realizes the tribes that visit her at Fairlight for medical attention are kind and loving people who are in danger of losing their identity the more white men encroach on their land.  She's a tough cookie who isn't afraid to say what she thinks, sleep with men whenever she wants, and drink lots of gin.  I grew to really admire her guts and ability to handle whatever came her way.  She's hiding a lot of grief behind that frivolity and Africa (and Ryder) have a way of drawing it out, exposing it to the blistering sun, and healing her sorrow.  

I so enjoyed this book!  Africa in the 1920's?  Not something I've ever read before in either fiction or non-fiction.  Delilah is just the kind of character I like to read about--tough, capable, and yet very vulnerable underneath that armor.  She knows how to read people and work her way around any situation.  

I have purchased another Deanna Raybourn novel: 

This is the first in her Lady Julia Grey series--part mystery, historical novel, and romance.  I am anticipating that I will enjoy Silent in the Grave as much as A Spear of Summer Grass even though they are such very different story lines. 

Rating:  8/10 for setting, descriptions of Africa that make you want to pack your bags, and an irresistible heroine.

Available in paperback or as an e-book.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Upcoming Summer Reads

Finally, finally! I can say that Spring is here in Iowa.  Waking up to birds every morning means sleeping late is not an option.  But who wants to sleep late when it's so beautiful outside anyway?  The long endless winter is over.  Tulips are blooming; hanging flower baskets are in my near future.  This means I get to enjoy sitting outside and reading.  What kind of books to read?  Fun stuff.  Frothy, with an occasional bit of seriousness.  A teen book or sci-fi tossed in on occasion.  Reading off my bookshelves--both the shelves I have at home, and those on my Nook.  

Here are a few of the fun books I have lined up to read in the next month.  I plan on doing most of my reading sitting on my tush outside on my back patio, sipping a cool drink and relaxing under an umbrella.  Ah....I can already picture it now!  

A frothy romance about starting over

A favorite British author 

ARC from publisher about a
family starting over in France
And finally....the one I've been waiting months to read:

Gigantic history of Paris by a fantastic
historical author
If you've never read any of Edward Rutherfurd's novels, I suggest you do so.  He is flat out amazing.  But beware--they are very large!

I'll be reviewing each one of the novels I've mentioned here in future posts.  

What's on your radar this summer?  Fun and flippy, mysteries, or some good biographies?  Some good teen novels?  How about those young reader books that are so much fun?  

Monday, May 6, 2013

Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall

I've been returning to the South again in my reading lately.  But, the book I'm reading now is about time travel and England, so I've moved pretty far beyond the South after this novel.  I'm sure I'll be visiting the South again soon.

But--Blue Asylum is definitely not a typical Civil War-Era type of novel.  It explores a problem many women faced in the 1800's:  not agreeing with their husbands, and being accused of insanity.  Off they are sent to asylums, often not ever seeing freedom again.  

Iris Dunleavy has been sent to Sanibel Island (off the coast of Florida) to an asylum (the best, most expensive one around) because she is not the biddable wife her husband wants.  She's been set before a judge, convicted of insanity, and sent away.  All in the midst of the Civil War; her husband is a Virginia plantation owner who is truly cruel and mean.  What Iris did to stroke his anger is slowly revealed throughout the novel--but she is by no means insane.  If anyone is, it's her husband.  

On Sanibel Island, there is a cast of characters:  Dr. Cowell, the man in charge;  his young son Wendell who is the only child on the island; and Ambrose Weller; a Rebel soldier suffering moments of intense PTSD.  Ambrose is an honorable man; quietly playing chess--he's different from the rest of the inmates who are clearly quite insane.  Iris is determined to leave the island, but Dr. Cowell refuses to believe her story--his blindness masks a growing attraction to this patient who is quite unlike anyone else on the island.  

Wendell is a 12 year old boy who has spent most of his life on the island.  He runs around, fishes, collects shells, and tries very hard to move past an infatuation with a previous patient that ended in tragedy.  He is a bit lost and trying to find his place on the island.  

Iris and Ambrose soon connect and begin to play checkers every day, telling each other their tales, slowly revealing what brought them to Sanibel Island.  They are falling in love, and even though Iris is married, they hope to escape and be together.  Can Iris save Ambrose from his war demons?  Can Iris ever be believed, or will her husband win again?  

I've read some reviews where people said this book was just too depressing.  It is sad.  It reveals the horrors of war and slavery; and making choices that can haunt a person until they are driven mad. Can we ever be at peace with our past?  I'll just say that Ambrose will tear your heart out.  

Add this to your list if you like Southern fiction.  It reminded me a bit of The Rebel Wife --a twist on the usual Civil War fiction.  It also would be a great book group title.  

Rating:  7/10 for Iris and Ambrose and their haunting tales; a subject that it not explored much in modern fiction, and a beautiful setting on Sanibel Island.

Available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson

This is a retelling of the fairy tale Bluebeard--so no surprises on what happens in the story.  It even says on the cover "The Bluebeard fairy tale retold".  If you're not familiar with this fairy tale, I'll quickly sum it up:  Bluebeard has been married many times, and all his wives have died--but no one know how.  He picks another young woman to be his wife, charms her, and marries her.  Leaving his estate on business, he gives her the keys to all the rooms, and tells her she can go in every room, but one.  

Yep, she goes in that room.  And finds the bodies of all his dead wives.  And realizes she's married a murderer, and she's probably next on the list.  Bluebeard returns, finds out she went in the forbidden room, and attempts to kill her.  Luckily, she is saved, Bluebeard is killed, and she inherits all his wealth.  

That's pretty much what happens in Strands of Bronze and Gold.  This retelling takes places in 1855 Mississippi, where Sophie has journeyed from Boston to live with her godfather, Monsieur Bernard de Cressac in his giant home, Wyndriven Abbey.  Sophie has beautiful long red hair, and Bernard quickly makes it obvious he's attracted to her--and her red hair.  

Sophie is only 17, and this is a teen book.  This is what I kept reminding myself of as I read it.  She's not going to have the smarts to get the heck out of dodge when she first starts to feel something is not right.  And she's young enough to be persuaded by an older, charismatic gentleman to stay and keep enjoying the lush life she's experiencing.  I imagine I would have done the same thing at 17.  But Sophie does slowly come out of her "crush" on Bernard and begins to realize underneath his charm Bernard is cruel, vicious, and not someone she wants to marry.

But Bernard has a way of getting what he wants.  Can Sophie figure out what's going on, and save herself before the net closes around her?  Will her actions hurt other people who are trying to help her?  

So read this novel knowing the storyline is based on a fairy tale.  You read it purely for enjoyment.  The descriptions of Wyndriven Abbey really are pretty spectacular, and the setting in Mississippi is perfectly toned to provide the creep factor required--all the beauty of nature, and underneath the smell of decay, bogs, and rot.  Bernard is a gorgeous man, but looks can be deceiving!

Rating:  6/10; loved the setting and the description; no surprises here.  Sophie starts out slow, but finally finds her inner strength.

Available in hardcover, audio, and e-book.