DNF Round Up for March

Monday, March 31, 2014
I feel like I didn't get a lot accomplished in March, numbers wise (read OR reviewed). I did, however read my biggest book of the year so far -- Brandon Sanderson's Words of Radiance. That said, here are the few DNFs that littered my reading for the third month of the year.

The Queen's Handmaid by Tracy L. Higley - ARC provided by publishers for review

From the servant halls of Cleopatra’s Egyptian palace to the courts of Herod the Great, Lydia will serve two queens to see prophecy fulfilled.

Alexandria, Egypt 39 BC

Orphaned at birth, Lydia was raised as a servant in Cleopatra's palace, working hard to please while keeping everyone at arm's length. She's been rejected and left with a broken heart too many times in her short life.

But then her dying mentor entrusts her with secret writings of the prophet Daniel and charges her to deliver this vital information to those watching for the promised King of Israel. Lydia must leave the nearest thing she’s had to family and flee to Jerusalem. Once in the Holy City, she attaches herself to the newly appointed king, Herod the Great, as handmaid to Queen Mariamme.

Trapped among the scheming women of Herod’s political family—his sister, his wife, and their mothers—and forced to serve in the palace to protect her treasure, Lydia must deliver the scrolls before dark forces warring against the truth destroy all hope of the coming Messiah.

DNF'd at: 55/400 or 13% 


Somehow (possibly in my excitement for an ancient Egyptian historical fiction) I TOTALLY missed that this was a Christian fiction novel. That's a big no no for me, and the repeated religious references showed me my veeeery error early on. I had no real issue with the prose or style other than the overt religiousness, so I don't see why fans of that sort of book wouldn't enjoy this. Just not a book for me.

Salvage by Alexandra Duncan - ARC provided by publishers for review

Ava, a teenage girl living aboard the male-dominated deep space merchant ship Parastrata, faces betrayal, banishment, and death. Taking her fate into her own hands, she flees to the Gyre, a floating continent of garbage and scrap in the Pacific Ocean, in this thrilling, surprising, and thought-provoking debut novel that will appeal to fans of Across the Universe, by Beth Revis, and The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood.

Ava is the captain's daughter. This allows her limited freedoms and a certain status in the Parastrata's rigid society-but it doesn't mean she can read or write or even withstand the forces of gravity. When Ava learns she is to be traded in marriage to another merchant ship, she hopes for the best. After all, she is the captain's daughter. Betrayal, banishment, and a brush with love and death are her destiny instead, and Ava stows away on a mail sloop bound for Earth in order to escape both her past and her future. The gravity almost kills her. Gradually recuperating in a stranger's floating cabin on the Gyre, a huge mass of scrap and garbage in the Pacific Ocean, Ava begins to learn the true meaning of family and home and trust-and she begins to nourish her own strength and soul. This sweeping and harrowing novel explores themes of choice, agency, rebellion, and family and, after a tidal wave destroys the Gyre and all those who live there, ultimately sends its main character on a thrilling journey to Mumbai, the beating heart of Alexandra Duncan's post-climate change Earth.

DNF'd at: 135/520* or 25%


*My egalley expired. Granted, I had taken more than a week to read that lowly 135 pages, but I was trying to continue. Salvage can boast some pretty prose, but it's almost interminably slow-going. It's a book that needs the right mood, which is why, for me, this is a DNF For Now. I can see myself trying this again on a day when a slow feminist YA sounds perfect. But that day is not this day.

Sea of Shadows by Kelly Armstrong - ARC provided by publisher

In the Forest of the Dead, where the empire’s worst criminals are exiled, twin sisters Moria and Ashyn are charged with a dangerous task. For they are the Keeper and the Seeker, and each year they must quiet the enraged souls of the damned.

Only this year, the souls will not be quieted.

Ambushed and separated by an ancient evil, the sisters’ journey to find each other sends them far from the only home they’ve ever known. Accompanied by a stubborn imperial guard and a dashing condemned thief, the girls cross a once-empty wasteland, now filled with reawakened monsters of legend, as they travel to warn the emperor. But a terrible secret awaits them at court—one that will alter the balance of their world forever.

DNF'd at: 210/400 or 52%


I was bored. The book is plodding, bland, lifeless. The pacing is so slow as to be nonexistent, the character are devoid of any kind of charisma or personality. The plot seems to be totally comprised of cliches and wholly unmemorable. 

Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule - ARC provided by publishers

A young soprano enrolls in a remote music academy where nothing, not even her mysterious young vocal coach, is as it seems.

Outside Dunhammond Conservatory, there lies a dark forest. And in the forest, they say, lives a great beast called the Felix. But Sing da Navelli never put much faith in the rumors and myths surrounding the school; music flows in her blood, and she is there to sing for real. This prestigious academy will finally give her the chance to prove her worth—not as the daughter of world-renowned musicians—but as an artist and leading lady in her own right.

Yet despite her best efforts, there seems to be something missing from her voice. Her doubts about her own talent are underscored by the fact that she is cast as the understudy in the school's production of her favorite opera, Angelique. Angelique was written at Dunhammond, and the legend says that the composer was inspired by forest surrounding the school, a place steeped in history, magic, and danger. But was it all a figment of his imagination, or are the fantastic figures in the opera more than imaginary?

Sing must work with the mysterious Apprentice Nathan Daysmoor as her vocal coach, who is both her harshest critic and staunchest advocate. But Nathan has secrets of his own, secrets that are entwined with the myths and legends surrounding Dunhammond, and the great creature they say lives there.

Lyrical, gothic, and magical, Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule will captivate and enchant readers.

DNF'd at: 100/336 or 29%


Just not my type of book. There's an evocative atmosphere, but the writing style is too scattered and meandering for me. It feels and reads like a debut novel, and I just wasn't invested enough to see where it all ended up in 240 pages.

Review: The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Sunday, March 30, 2014
Title: The Winner's Curse
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Genre: fantasy, young adult
Series: Winner's Curse Trilogy #1
Pages: 355
Published: March 4 2014
Source: I received an ARC from MacMillan Publishers for review
Rating: 3.75/5

Winning what you want may cost you everything you love.

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions. One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction.

Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

When I wanted to be so many other things for The Winner's Curse, for the most part I am just ...whelmed.. by it. I mean, don't get me wrong -- it's not a bad book by any means. It has several strengths to recommend it (intriguing world building, creative and original plot/plot complications, strong main characters) but for me, it was another case of the potential exceeding the execution as well as being an (admittedly well-written) romance masquerading as a fantasy. And that, I think, is the heart of why I didn't love this and can't rate it higher than a 3.75/5.

While I enjoyed this story, I never felt any strong emotions about what was happening over the course of the narrative. I liked Kestrel and the fact that she was shown to be many things (including militarily competent and feminine), but it was a distant sort of character investment. She's a complex mix of many characteristics, but I never truly cared for her, feared for her, felt for her. The same is true of Arin, the love interest, but to a lesser degree. Though given less to work with (due to the nature of his role in the story) than his counterpart, Arin's quiet stoicism and anger were much more personally compelling, due to his personal history.

The Winner's Curse is an obviously clever novel. The ill-fated romance angle so beloved in YA novels has an entirely new angle to play with in Kestrel and Arin's volatile situation. The connection between the two, be it harmonious or acrimonious, drives much of the plot for the novel, as it evolves into far more than a master-slave relationship. If you like complicated love stories (see: Akiva and Karou, Jon Snow and Ygritte) where the line between enemy and friend grow confused, the parallels here will likely involve you. Her people may have brutally conquered his when they were kids, but his betrayal is on a smaller, personal level.

For all that this is being labelled as a epic fantasy, it seems to be a rather on the "low fantasy" end of the spectrum as opposed to epic or high fantasy. The worldbuilding is minimal, there is little to no magic/power system, the total human dominance of the population, and it lacks the narrative definition about whether the planet depicted is a fictional world, or a different stage of Earth itself. Everyone identifies genres differently, but for me, that lands The Winner's Curse solidly in the low fantasy camp. This isn't a slight, but genre fans like me who go in looking for that type of fantasy are not going to find it here.

Clearly, after successes like Maas' Throne of Glass/Crown of Midnight and the Shadow and Bone series by Leigh Bardugo, various types of young adult fantasy on the rise. It's a more than welcome new trend if it keeps turning out gems like Rutkoski's first in a series. It's especially nice to see three-dimensional female characters being represented so heavily as well -- Kestrel is welcome addition to the Celaenas, Aileanas, Seraphinas, Quintanas and Alinas she shares genre space with. And while it maaay have been a tad overhyped for me, there is still a lot to enjoy about The Winner's Curse.

I am very interested in continuing to see what Rutkoski is shaping up after that ending. Book two promises to be very..... riveting.

Two Minute Review: India Black In the City of Light by Carol K. Carr

Saturday, March 29, 2014
Title: India Black In the City of Light
Author: Carol K. Carr
Genre: historical fiction,  mystery
Series: Madam of Espionage #3.5
Pages: 65
Published: October 2013
Source: purchased
Rating: 3.5/5

When it comes to undercover work, nobody does it better than Madam of Espionage India Black...

India and the handsome British spy, French, are ordered to escort a Russian agent to Paris where he will be exchanged for one of Her Majesty’s operatives. The task seems straightforward and India looks forward to enjoying the delights of the city—and the delights of French.

But it isn’t long before things go awry and the duo are battling for their lives in the City of Light.
Includes a preview of the Madame of Espionage Mystery, India Black and The Gentleman Thief.

I love these books and this series for a lot of reasons (snarky/sarcastic humor, loads of action, great characters, cleverly constructed mysteries) but I can't deny another chance to ship my ship is also a big factor. It's a pretty superficial bit of fiction, meant more to intrigue readers in the other novels, but French and India are in top form no matter how long the story. Of the two novellas in the series (the other being India Black and the Rajah's Ruby) this latest effort feels more like a complete story than its predecessor.

French and India are one of my top teams in any kind of fiction. If they could solve crime alongside Books and Braun from Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series and Wayne and Wax from Alloy of Law, it would be an unstoppable team. But I digress. The point is, any time spent with these two characters is fun and India Black in the City of Light is a 65 page novella devoted to fanservice for Frendia shippers. They banter, they snark, they save each other's lives from those Slavic antagonists, the Russians.

The plot here is rather minimal and the twist not entirely unpredictable, but only Carol K. Carr can make me rate a novella more than 3-stars. Her characters come alive and it's more than worth the few dollars to buy this fun and entertaining short story. It's the perfect bookish tease -- there's just enough of everything to make fans want to jump into the fourth full-length novel India Black and the Gentleman Thief as soon as possible.

DNF Review: Don't Even Think About it by Sarah Mlynowski

Friday, March 28, 2014
Title: Don't Even Think About It
Author: Sarah Mlynowski
Genre: contemporary fiction, sci-fi
Series: None
Pages: 336
Publication: March 11, 2014
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 2/5

Contemporary teen fiction with romance, secrets, scandals, and ESP from the author of Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn't Have).

We weren't always like this. We used to be average New York City high school sophomores. Until our homeroom went for flu shots. We were prepared for some side effects. Maybe a headache. Maybe a sore arm. We definitely didn't expect to get telepathic powers. But suddenly we could hear what everyone was thinking. Our friends. Our parents. Our crushes. Now we all know that Tess is in love with her best friend, Teddy. That Mackenzie cheated on Cooper. That, um, Nurse Carmichael used to be a stripper.

Since we've kept our freakish skill a secret, we can sit next to the class brainiac and ace our tests. We can dump our boyfriends right before they dump us. We know what our friends really think of our jeans, our breath, our new bangs. We always know what's coming. Some of us will thrive. Some of us will crack. None of us will ever be the same.
So stop obsessing about your ex. We're always listening.

Reviewed by 

DNF at 70%

I give, I tap. This book is such a mess.

Twenty-two fifteen-year-olds in NYC gain telepathy after their batch of flu shots goes terribly wrong. For three quarters of the book we're forced to suffer through the most insipid high school drama without a single meaningful plot development.

The writing is awful. I've read Mlynowski's work before and was impressed with the way her characters felt age realistic, so I think it's a combination of trying something that's not working, (the narration, we'll get there,) and an ensemble that's entirely too big. Because there are just too many characters, they all boil down to stock tropes. Tess is the insecure one, Olivia is the goody two shoes, Mackenzie is the cheating bitch, Pi's the ambitious bitch, Cooper's the sad sack, BJ's the perv... Then we have side characters, (seventeen of them!) like Sylvia, who only exists to be Tess's foil and "their" love interest, Teddy, who literally has not had a thought that wasn't about one of them. This should have been about four kids with telepathy, not two dozen.

Because their telepathy means there are no secrets from other "Espies", the story is sometimes told in first person plural. This is the narrative device I referenced earlier, and after the first few chapters, when it’s only deployed in asides, I don’t hate it, but I feel pulled out of the story every time it happens. For example, the story is mostly told in third person past: "Olivia's heart skipped a beat." "Renée laughed." Good. But, then it lapses into things like: "We're relieved she's not one of us. We have enough busybodies without her." Bad. As if that weren't enough, occasionally the tenses are mixed without a voice change. In one conversation, BJ both “says” and “said”. So is this past or present? Is the third person omniscient narrating or is it the Espies? Or is it Oliva, who BJ’s having the conversation with? You can mix narration, but it needs to be done with a far defter hand than is applied here.

I could forgive all this for a good or even fun story, but alas. The telepathy is stupid. It's like hearing, in that the closer you are, the louder it is. It's hard to hear people with something in between, and walls block it out altogether. Except for Mackenzie, she can hear through walls for no good reason. But telepathy is linked to the eyes. The one(!) character with glasses can hear much louder than the rest, to the point that it basically cripples her. They can turn the ESP off by closing their eyes, because the waves can't get through eyelids. (Um, what is light attenuation, Alex?) Oh and their eyes all turn purple. I don't know why. Maybe that's in the last hundred pages with the rest of the plot.

230 pages and 31 chapters of needless boy drama, toxic friends, cheating, hypocrisy, and boy drama. I don’t need to go any farther. I should have listened to the title and not even thought about reviewing this book.

Review: Great by Sara Benincasa

Title: Great
Author: Sara Benincasa
Genre: general fiction, retellings, young adult
Series: N/A
Pages: 272
Published: expected April 8 2014
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 4/5

In Sara Benincasa's contemporary retelling of The Great Gatsby, a teenage girl becomes entangled in the drama of a Hamptons social circle, only to be implicated in a tragedy that shakes the summer community.

Everyone loves a good scandal.

Naomi Rye usually dreads spending the summer with her socialite mother in East Hampton. This year is no different. She sticks out like a sore thumb among the teenagers who have been summering (a verb only the very rich use) together for years. But Naomi finds herself captivated by her mysterious next-door neighbor, Jacinta. Jacinta has her own reason for drawing close to Naomi-to meet the beautiful and untouchable Delilah Fairweather. But Jacinta's carefully constructed world is hiding something huge, a secret that could undo everything. And Naomi must decide how far she is willing to be pulled into this web of lies and deception before she is unable to escape.

Based on a beloved classic and steeped in Sara Benincasa's darkly comic voice, Great has all the drama, glitz, and romance with a terrific modern (and scandalous) twist to enthrall readers.

If you're a fan of The Great Gatsby I think there's a lot to be found in Sara Benincasa's loose retelling of the well-loved classic that you'd enjoy. If you're not a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald's tale of privilege and money in America's jazz era, there's still a strong chance Benincasa's debut set in the modern day will surprise you and entertain you as this story's Nick narrator Naomi navigates a world of power and privilege in the Hamptons.

If you're like me and indifferent, Great is enjoyable for both its homages and its divergences from the original source material. It's a story with a less than perfect narrator, who for that reason and several others, felt real to me. Naomi gets caught up in many things beyond her understanding and her maturity level -- the social circle her mother encourages her to see, the "secret" -- and her struggles are. She does fall prey to some actions and choices in vocabulary that are less than well-informed (the slut-shaming in particular) but her imperfections were moderate and realistic for an isolate and somewhat spoiled teenage girl.

The writing was serviceable and nondescript. I can't say that I was overly impressed by the prose displayed, but it was strong, and the story was constructed well for the first three-fourths of the novel. After the "scandalous" twist promised in the blurb, Great felt very rushed. It was 230 pages of set up and foundation about who these characters were (which is fine one one hand because it was interesting but otherwise less enthusing) but then only about 35 pages of headlong fallout and bringing everything together for the end. The increased pace lessened the impact the author was trying to achieve with the twist by short-cutting any time to see the characters really recover from the climactic events.

This was a success for me, surprisingly. I think it works equally well as an original piece of fiction and as a retelling of The Great Gatsby, which was far beyond what I had expected. The gender switching and updating of the setting works well for Naomi and Benincasa's style and add another fresh layer to the retelling of an old classic. Especially for a debut fiction novel, Benincasa had a huge task with retelling such a familiar story in her own way, but Great more than bears the weight of that inherent hype.

Book Tour Review: The Accident by Chris Pavone

Thursday, March 27, 2014
Title: The Accident
Author: Chris Pavone
Genre: thriller, mystery
Series: N/A
Pages: 400
Published: March 11 2014
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
Rating: 3.5/5

As dawn approaches in New York, literary agent Isabel Reed is turning the final pages of a mysterious, anonymous manuscript, racing through the explosive revelations about powerful people, as well as long-hidden secrets about her own past. In Copenhagen, veteran CIA operative Hayden Gray, determined that this sweeping story be buried, is suddenly staring down the barrel of an unexpected gun. And in Zurich, the author himself is hiding in a shadowy expat life, trying to atone for a lifetime’s worth of lies and betrayals with publication of The Accident, while always looking over his shoulder.

Over the course of one long, desperate, increasingly perilous day, these lives collide as the book begins its dangerous march toward publication, toward saving or ruining careers and companies, placing everything at risk—and everyone in mortal peril.  The rich cast of characters—in publishing and film, politics and espionage—are all forced to confront the consequences of their ambitions, the schisms between their ideal selves and the people they actually became.

The action rockets around Europe and across America, with an intricate web of duplicities stretching back a quarter-century to a dark winding road in upstate New York, where the shocking truth about the accident itself is buried.

Gripping, sophisticated, layered, and impossible to put down, The Accident proves once again that Chris Pavone is a true master of suspense.

I don't know if the premise of a thriller has ever interested me as much as The Accident's -- a book about a book so major, conspiracies are confirmed, people are killed, and nefarious entities rack up a bodycount to prevent its contents spreading to the general public. Thankfully, Pavone is pretty much equal to the task of selling his plot to the audience. The words "page turner" "thrill ride" are thrown around a lot in this particular genre, but The Accident is really all of those things.

Taking place on one important day, The Accident rockets around from beginning to end, from one city to the next, from one character to the tangentially connected character. There are the quiet moments of setup to be found, but the book is at its best when it's roaring along or revealing a clever twist (coughKateandthe"CIA"cough) to keep things interesting. The "mystery" of the eponymous accident is a tad too obvious to contain any kind of surprise, but the reveal of the anonymous author himself was better handled.

I am not much of a conspiracy theorist, but the story of The Accident helps to sell its premise. Spoilers are the death of thrillers and mysteries, but suffice to say that Pavone manages to keep the theories and truths from veering too wildly out of control. It's a story of power and privilege, so when Isabel and Co. start uncovering truths, things get nasty fast for everyone involved. The stakes rise high, so it's remarkably easy to get caught up in the tale Pavone ably keeps spinning.

The large array of 3rd person characters comes into play and allows the reader to see multiple angles of the same narrative. It creates a big picture for the story, one that may be a bit short on personal charisma for the characters, but excels at creating intricate mysteries. It's a fun book and is sure to please fans of this type of story.

Book Tour Review: The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley

Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Title: The Deepest Secret
Author: Carla Buckley
Genre: general fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 448
Published: February 4 2014
Source: TLC Book Tours for review

A riveting, poignant family drama perfect for readers of Defending Jacob and The Memory Keeper's Daughter, which explores the power of the secrets people keep-the darker, hidden facets of our lives, and what happens when they come to light.

Diagnosed with XP, a rare medical condition which makes him lethally sensitive to light, Tyler is a thirteen-year-old who desperately wants just one thing: to be normal. His mother Eve also wants just one thing: to protect her son. As Tyler begins roaming their cul-de-sac at night, cloaked in the safety of the darkness, he peers into the lives of the other families on the street-looking in on the things they most want hidden. Then, the young daughter of a neighbor suddenly vanishes, and Tyler may be the only one who can make sense of her disappearance…but what will happen when everyone's secrets are exposed to the light?

A taut read, The Deepest Secret makes for some exciting reading for a book about families on a cul-de-sac. Carla Buckley's latest novel is about secrets and lies, but it also shows that what we keep hidden is never completely gone. Using a compelling plot that leads to many unforeseen twists, this family drama is carefully written and intricately imagined/

Broken into days rather than chapters, The Deepest Secret keeps a rotating point of view for its characters. Using third person, the reader gets to see inside the thoughts and workings of Tyler, his mom, his dad  --- and really see what goes on inside the houses of the various families. Over the course of the seventeen days depicted in the novel, readers are inextricably drawn into the complicated mess that surrounds the lives of Tyler, Charlotte, and his mother.

One of the most chilling things about this book is how cleverly it illustrates how little you can really know someone else, despite even years of familiarity. You never know what anyone could be hiding - sexual fetishes, illegal contraband, more -- under their social veneer. And as tensions escalate, the neighbors learn more and more about each other. It makes for a fascinating fly-on-the-wall reading experience for the duration.

The shortchange in this deal is the characterization. When I say it's minimal, I mean minimal. The majority of the characters are defined by one main trait - Tyler's XP, Eve's extreme dedication, David's remoteness - and it makes it incredibly hard to invest. I was always interested in the story but in a bystander-seeing-a-car-crash way --- I didn't care about them personally, I just wanted to see how everything ended up for curiosity's sake alone.

Quietly compelling, The Deepest Secret is a page turner. It begins slowly but it really builds into something you can't stop reading. Carla Buckley can write cleverly, and it's reflected here.

Book Tour Review: The Collector of Dying Breaths by M.J. Rose

Title: The Collector of Dying Breaths
Author: M.J. Rose
Series: Reincarnationist #6
Pages: 384
Published: expected April 8 2014
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 3/5

A lush and imaginative novel that crisscroses time as a perfumer and a mythologist search for the fine line between potion and poison, poison and passion…and past and present.

Florence, Italy—1533: An orphan named René le Florentin is plucked from poverty to become Catherine de Medici’s perfumer. Traveling with the young duchessina from Italy to France, René brings with him a cache of secret documents from the monastery where he was trained: recipes for exotic fragrances and potent medicines—and a formula for an alchemic process said to have the potential to reanimate the dead. In France, René becomes not only the greatest perfumer in the country but the most dangerous, creating deadly poisons for his Queen to use against her rivals. But while mixing herbs and essences under the light of flickering candles, Rene doesn’t begin to imagine the tragic and personal consequences for which his lethal potions will be responsible.

Paris, France—The Present: A renowned mythologist, Jac L’Etoile, is trying to recover from personal heartache by throwing herself into her work, learns of the 16th century perfumer who may have been working on an elixir that would unlock the secret to immortality. She becomes obsessed with René le Florentin’s work—particularly when she discovers the dying breathes he had collected during his lifetime. Jac’s efforts put her in the path of her estranged lover, Griffin North, a linguist who has already begun translating René le Florentin’s mysterious formula. Together they confront an eccentric heiress in possession of a world-class art collection. A woman who has her own dark purpose for the elixir… a purpose for which she believes the ends will justify her deadly means. 

This mesmerizing gothic tale of passion and obsession crisscrosses time, zigzagging from the violent days of Catherine de Medici’s court to twenty-first century France. Fiery and lush, set against deep, wild forests and dimly lit chateaus, The Collector of Dying Breaths illuminates the true path to immortality: the legacies we leave behind.

  The latest and sixth book in the long-running Reinarnationist series, The Collector of Dying Breaths is another exciting thrill tied in with intriguing mysteries and past lives. Main character and perfumer Jac L'Etoile is back for the latest novel, though her brother Robbie also plays a small but meaningful role in the plot. Those familiar with the previous five novels will enjoy the appearances and mentions of previous characters and events, but like Rose's others, The Collector of Dying Breaths can be read as part of the series or as a standalone.

 Rose's books move fast. There is always a lot of story to cover -- both in the current storyline of Jac/Robbie/Melinoe/Griffin and in the past one of Rene Bianco -- so the pace is quick and unrelenting. It's an easy read thanks to Rose's clever plotting and creative writing. The theme of memory and scent is as present here as it is the other books, and combines the historical aspect of Rene's story to that of Jac's in the modern day. Jac does get a bit more time to develop her plot as opposed to Rene's less frequent chapters, but each plot line is interesting and imaginative.

 The characterization does suffer somewhat because of the book's dedication to the various other aspects of storytelling, and it shows. For me, writing three dimensional characters have always been the chink in M.J. Rose's writing armor. I have been with Jac and Robbie for three books, but I still can't say I really know these people the author has created. I want more from them--- I want to care about Griffin and Jac as a couple, but it is hard to do when my feelings for each as individuals are so lukewarm.

 As much as this is about past lives and uncovering the mystery behind a character's death, The Collector of Dying Breaths is more of a Gothic romance than a suspenseful historical/time slip novel. The other elements are my favorite and I wish they were incorporated into the story more. The clear focus, character-wise, is on Jac and Grffin's will-they-won't-they relationship. It leaves the villain, especially, unexplained and somewhat laughable at the end of it all.

 Though there have already been six books, this is a series with enough potential to keep going for at least another few stories. Rose is able to craft fun and engaging stories with her wide cast of characters and reading her creations always makes for a diverting experience.

Book Tour Review: Bellagrand by Paullina Simons

Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Title: Bellagrand
Author: Paullina Simons
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 560
Published: expected March 25 2014
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
Rating: 2.5/5

They gave up everything to be together, but love was just the beginning of their journey...

Italian immigrant Gina, independent, compassionate and strong, desperately wants a family. Boston blue-blood Harry, idealistic and fiercely political, wants to create a better world, a better country. Bound together by tormented passion, they rail, rage, and break each other’s hearts, only to come face to face with a stark final choice that will forever determine their destiny.

Their journey takes them through four decades and two continents, through triumph and turmoil, from the wooden planks of the troubled, immigrant town of Lawrence, Massachusetts, to the marble halls and secret doors of a mystical place called... Bellagrand.

From internationally bestselling author Paullina Simons comes another compelling saga of heartbreak and redemption, and the devastating love story that led to The Bronze Horseman.
Though Bellagrand's story and characters are loosely connected to the author's famous Bronze Horseman trilogy, it is a complete narrative that can also be read and enjoyed without any knowledge of the previous novels. It's an epic and sprawling tale, one that I could understand other readers loving, but didn't quite love myself. It's obvious that Simons can write quite the story, but the material ultimately just didn't connect with me.

 One of the reasons I didn't connect with the narrative or characters as much as I would have liked is because Simons latest novel is more a dramatic romance than anything else. It's can be exhausting charting the course of Gina and Harry's relationship. These two characters are interesting because they are not perfect, nut they are also cringeworthy companions for hundreds and hundreds of pages. Gina is too giving, Harry is too selfish. It's nearly impossible to like Gina because she is so spineless, or to even care about Harry because his characterization is so one-note. I was frustrated early on by the characters, but Bellagrand is still easily readable. Simons tends to veer verbose, but that lends well to creating atmosphere and sense of place.

Though the book takes place in several locations, Russia/that time of the story were the most interesting. I felt that the endless politics angle felt fumbled to me, the execution less an could be desired, but the family turmoil was better handled and more relatable. Even though the characters themselves were not Ted, their situation is often heartbreaking. I am not sure that Bellagrand is the best place to begin reading Paulina Simons's novels, but I feel confident in predicting that fans of hers will find more to love and new readers might be slightly disappointed. It's a solidarity, but one that feels more at home in the romance section rather than the historical fiction area.

The Chalice US Book Blast!

Thursday, March 20, 2014
The new novel The Chalice, by Nancy Bilyeau, sends readers on a page-turning historical quest. Set in Henry VIII’s England, the story is driven by plot twists, deceptions, spiritual searching and romantic tension. Readers fall in love with protagonist Joanna Stafford, a Catholic novice forced to leave her priory and find her answers. “She is strong and determined and very likable,” says one blogger. “Exhilarating,” says Good Housekeeping, and “The novel is riveting and provides fascinating insight into into the lives of displaced nuns and priests, with fully realized characters,” says RT Book Reviews. Launching in paperback on March 18 and available in ebook too.

The Chalice
by Nancy Bilyeau
Publication Date: March 18, 2014
Touchstone Publishing
Paperback; 496p
ISBN-10: 1476708665
Series: Joanna Stafford #2
Genre: Historical Mystery

Between the crown and the cross stands one woman…
IN 1538, ENGLAND is in the midst of bloody power struggles that threaten to tear the country apart. Aristocrat-turned-novice Joanna Stafford knows what lies inside the king’s torture rooms and risks imprisonment when she is caught up in an international plot targeting the king. As the power plays turn vicious, Joanna understands she may have to assume her role in a prophecy foretold by three different seers.
Joanna realizes the life of Henry VIII, as well as the future of Christendom, are in her hands—hands that must someday hold the chalice that lies at the center of these deadly prophecies…


Praise for The Chalice

“A brilliant and gripping page-turner…A fascinating blend of politics, religion, mysticism and personal turmoil. Well-researched and filled with sumptuous detail, it follows Joanna’s early life from Bilyeau’s début novel, The Crown, but this book easily stands on its own. Bilyeau fills in the blanks from her earlier work while leaving the reader both wanting to read the first book and eagerly awaiting the next. This is a must-read for lovers of historical fiction.” – Free Lance-Star

“English history buffs and mystery fans alike will revel in Nancy Bilyeau’s richly detailed sequel to The Crown.” – Parade

“The novel is riveting, and provides fascinating insight into the lives of displaced nuns and priests during the tumultuous Tudor period. Bilyeau creates fully realized characters, with complex actions and emotions, driving the machinations of these historic personages.” – RT Book Reviews, (Top Pick)

“The human and political battles of Henry VIII’s reformation are brought to exhilarating life in The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau.” – Good Housekeeping UK, April 2014
“Bilyeau sends her plucky former novice back into the intrigue-laden court of Henry VIII.” – Entertainment Weekly

“Bilyeau continues from her first novel the subtle, complex development of Joanna’s character and combines that with a fast-paced, unexpected plot to hold the reader’s interest on every page . . . history and su

pernatural mysticism combine in this compelling thriller.” – Historical Novel Society

“Joanna Stafford is a young novice caught up in power struggles familiar to readers of Hilary Mantel and C.J. Sansom, but with elements of magic that echo the historical thrillers of Kate Mosse.” – S.J. Parris, author of ‘Heresy,’ ‘Prophecy’ and ‘Sacrilege’

“[A] layered book of historical suspense.” – Kirkus Reviews

“The Chalice is an engrossing mix of the complicated politics of the Reformation with the magical elements of the Dominican order, and Joanna–fiery, passionate, determined to honor what she thinks God wants her to do–is a fascinating character. Fans of historical mysteries, Tudor politics and supernatural fiction will all be pleased by the broad scope, quick-moving plot and historical integrity of Bilyeau’s second novel.” – Shelf Awareness

Buy the Book

About the Author

Nancy Bilyeau

Nancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Ladies Home Journal. She is currently the executive editor of DuJour magazine. Her screenplays have placed in several prominent industry competitions. Two scripts reached the semi-finalist round of the Nicholl Fellowships of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Her screenplay “Zenobia” placed with the American Zoetrope competition, and “Loving Marys” reached the finalist stage of Scriptapalooza. A native of the Midwest, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. THE CROWN, her first novel, was published in 2012; the sequel, THE CHALICE, followed in 2013.

Some earlier milestones: In 1661, Nancy’s ancestor, Pierre Billiou, emigrated from France to what was then New Amsterdam when he and his family sailed on the St. Jean de Baptiste to escape persecution for their Protestant beliefs. Pierre built the first stone house on Staten Island and is considered the borough’s founder. His little white house is on the national register of historic homes and is still standing to this day.

Nancy lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

Author Links

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Giveaway will run from March 17-21. You must be 18 or older to enter.
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Book Tour Review: Three Souls by Janie Chang

Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Title: Three Souls
Author: Janie Chang
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 502
Published: February 25 2014
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
Rating: 5/5

An absorbing novel of romance and revolution, loyalty and family, sacrifice and undying love

We have three souls, or so I'd been told. But only in death could I confirm this ... So begins the haunting and captivating tale, set in 1935 China, of the ghost of a young woman named Leiyin, who watches her own funeral from above and wonders why she is being denied entry to the afterlife. Beside her are three souls—stern and scholarly yang; impulsive, romantic yin; and wise, shining hun—who will guide her toward understanding. She must, they tell her, make amends.

As Leiyin delves back in time with the three souls to review her life, she sees the spoiled and privileged teenager she once was, a girl who is concerned with her own desires while China is fractured by civil war and social upheaval. At a party, she meets Hanchin, a captivating left-wing poet and translator, and instantly falls in love with him.

When Leiyin defies her father to pursue Hanchin, she learns the harsh truth—that she is powerless over her fate. Her punishment for disobedience leads to exile, an unwanted marriage, a pregnancy, and, ultimately, her death. And when she discovers what she must do to be released from limbo into the afterlife, Leiyin realizes that the time for making amends is shorter than she thought.

Suffused with history and literature, Three Souls is an epic tale of revenge and betrayal, forbidden love, and the price we are willing to pay for freedom.

I think one of the best things about reading, and reading historical fiction in particular, is the pleasure to view foreign, alien places through different viewpoints and cultural perspectives. It's an exercise in trying live a thousand lives across time, vicariously. One of the many reasons I loved Three Souls so much is the vibrancy with which Chang imbues both her characters and her setting of pre-WWII civil-war China. Both come to life under the author's skilled pen, and though this is a debut novel, it's a polished, immersive read from the first page. Thanks to both the aforementioned characters and setting as well as the enveloping atmosphere, plotting, and the lovely writing, this isn't a book I will soon forget.

The narrative frame of a deceased person looking back on her life is familiar, but Chang reworks it in her own way. By using the cut-aways to dead-Leiyin and her three souls commenting on the recently revealed events of past-Leiyin, Three Souls explores its complicated main character's life and character in detail. The change between past and present could be jarring, but with Janie Chang, it's a seamless and fluid transition every time. Through her death and quest for karmic equality, you get to relive Leiyin's whole life through her death, along with her. And the picture that emerges of Leiyin is far from perfect. She is by turns likeable and unlikeable, smart and foolhardy, selfish and selfless. The look back on her life is unflinching, honest and real. It's a fascinating read, partly due to the interesting times and events, but a lot of that interest is down to Leiyin herself. She's a complex woman; one who noticeably grows and changes throughout Three Souls.

Simply put, Three Souls is a beautiful, haunting story about life, death, and life after death -- if I were forced to compare, I'd say it was a much more finessed Lovely Bones meets a much more interesting Ghost Bride. It's a lyrical and descriptive experience. The setting is captivating and fresh -- a civil war China, in which not only do Communists and Nationalists war, but the Japanese encroach as well. With Chang's easy but lyrical prose, 1920's and 30's China is readily depicted, both its heights and its depths. There's often a fine line between pleasing modern readers and creating anachronisms in historical fiction, but this story dances on that line with ease. The protagonist (a young woman of notable status,) Leiyin's yearning for a real education and independence in her life during China's ever-changing socio/political/economic climate feels like a natural and authentic character evolution for that time period while still being relateable to readers.

The feminist themes are subtle, and mixed in with others (like betrayal, family fidelity, politics, etc.), it was possibly the most compelling to me. Leiyin and her young friend Nanmei (and to an extent her sister Sueyin) strive to improve themselves and their lives through whatever means possible. Though society was changing in China, it wasn't fast enough for Leiyin's generation of ambitious women. Modern fads couldn't compete with thousands of years of tradition, and Leiyin's helplessness (both in life and later echoed as a ghost) is understandable and infuriating, even 70+ years after when the book is set.

There is a slight supernatural bent to the story, as evidenced by the fact that the main character is active in the story after becoming deceased before the actual story begins. There's more otherworldliness than that later on in course of the novel, but so far as to not give away anything all I can say is: if you can suspend disbelief enough to buy into the narration of Leiyin and the various manifestations of her three souls, the later twist is just as easy to accept. 

Janie Chang's debut is impressive. Her prose is lovely without being distracting, and I couldn't help but be impressed with how she tied so many threads together into one mindblowing plotblanket that covered the entire novel. The twists were well-timed and unexpected, and kept the final chapters of the novel just as unpredictable as the story that preceded. The ending is satisfying while still remaining frustratingly open-ended for those of use who need finality in all things. Finishing Three Souls was a bittersweet farewell --- it is clearly going to be among my favorite historical fiction novels of 2014, but I was sad to leave without complete resolution.

Here's hoping Janie Chang doesn't wait too long to write her second book.

Review: Manor of Secrets by Katherine Longshore

Sunday, March 16, 2014
Title: Manor of Secrets
Author: Katherine Longshore
Genre: historical fiction
Series: NA
Pages: 320
Publication: January 28, 2014
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 2.5/5
The year is 1911. And at The Manor, nothing is as it seems . . .

Lady Charlotte Edmonds: Beautiful, wealthy, and sheltered, Charlotte feels suffocated by the strictures of upper-crust society. She longs to see the world beyond The Manor, to seek out high adventure. And most of all, romance.

Janie Seward: Fiery, hardworking, and clever, Janie knows she can be more than just a kitchen maid. But she isn't sure she possesses the courage -- or the means -- to break free and follow her passions.

Both Charlotte and Janie are ready for change. As their paths overlap in the gilded hallways and dark corridors of The Manor, rules are broken and secrets are revealed. Secrets that will alter the course of their lives. . . forever.

Reviewed by 

The nineteen-tens were such a turbulent time in English history, but except for a few references to cars, I feel like this book could have been set anywhere around the Regency/Georgian eras.

Lady Charlotte is the youngest of six and feels forgotten and overlooked. Her mother is an old-fashioned lady and wants Charlotte to follow in her footsteps by marrying a lord, having children, and running a household. But Charlotte’s a dreamer who wants to marry for love and write grand adventure stories. There is literally nothing in that description that couldn’t happen in any time period. I read that story set in 1280. I’ve read that story in 1820. And now I’m reading it in 1911. It’s boring and nothing new is brought to the table.

The other point of view, Janie, the adventurous kitchen maid, is a little more interesting, if only because I haven’t read a lot of novels set Downstairs. Janie was born at THE MANOR, but left for most of her childhood to starve on an uncle’s farm. Now she’s back and determined to keep her head down and do good work so she can stay forever. But Charlotte’s mom is super strict, especially about romance between staff members, which is unfortunate because Janie is trapped in a love triangle between the dashing footman and the dependable hall boy.

For a book with secrets in the title, the story is actually pretty light on them. It’s really about the friendship that blooms between a highborn lady and her servant and the backlash as the staff gossips uproariously and makes Janie’s life miserable for thinking above her station. I do like that idea, but it’s also where my biggest problem lies. Charlotte is a selfish, spoiled, pain in the ass. Her head is so far in the clouds, she can’t see what she’s doing to Janie’s life and she really doesn’t care.

This is highlighted clearly in a conversation between the main characters in which Charlotte throws a temper tantrum because Sarah, her maid, won’t send Janie upstairs. Janie finally arrives, terrified that Charlotte has information about a servant who is going to be sacked, maybe even Janie herself. Charlotte, without acknowledging the distress she’s put Janie through, confesses that her mother’s top marriage prospect is going to talk to her father after dinner. This is why she embarrassed Sarah, got Janie in trouble, and turned the staff upside down. Because she doesn’t want a proposal from a hot, rich lord.

I will shed one single tear for her. Ugh.

The book is at its most successful when Charlotte is Downstairs and learning about the lives and hopes of her staff. Unfortunately, too much time is devoted to the love heptagon, (Charlotte and Janie and Sarah all like Lawrence, who’s a bit of a cad, but Fran likes Andrew who likes Charlotte and Harry likes Janie who also likes him, but she likes Lawrence too, but he kissed...I need a lie down,) instead of the girls learning and growing. The big secret joining them all is actually a surprise when it’s revealed, but the way it plays out is pretty nuts. It asks us to forgive all of the villains, (who now act totally against type,) ignore the fallout of a scandal, and see characters change their lifelong dreams on a dime. There’s also a mysterious illness that is absolutely never explained.

Manor of Secrets is not poorly written, though, again, I wish the time period felt more impactful on daily life. Charlotte and Janie’s voices are different, which is always important to multi-POV stories. I don’t hate any of the love interests that I’m supposed to like. But, I also don’t like the characters I’m supposed to like. Even with the big twist end, I don’t have a single strong feeling about anything but the fact that Charlotte is an overdramatic crybaby.

Book Tour Review: The Debt of Tamar by Nicole Dweck

Friday, March 14, 2014
Title: The Debt of Tamar
Author: Nicole Dweck
Genre: historical fiction, general fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 332
Published: July 2013
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Rating: 3/5

During the second half of the 16th century, a wealthy widow by the name of Doña Antonia Nissim is arrested and charged with being a secret Jew. The punishment? Death by burning. Enter Suleiman the Magnificent, an Ottoman "Schindler," and the most celebrated sultan in all of Turkish history. With the help of the Sultan, the widow and her children manage their escape to Istanbul. Life is seemingly idyllic for the family in their new home, that is, until the Sultan's son meets and falls in love with Tamar, Doña Antonia's beautiful and free-spirited granddaughter. A quiet love affair ensues until one day, the girl vanishes.

Over four centuries later, thirty-two year old Selim Osman, a playboy prince with a thriving real estate empire, is suddenly diagnosed with a life-theatening condition. Abandoning the mother of his unborn child, he vanishes from Istanbul without an explanation. In a Manhattan hospital, he meets Hannah, a talented artist and the daughter of a French Holocaust survivor. As their story intertwines with that of their ancestors, readers are taken back to Nazi-occupied Paris, and to a seaside village in the Holy Land where a world of secrets is illuminated.

Theirs is a love that has been dormant for centuries, spanning continents, generations, oceans, and religions. Bound by a debt that has lingered through time, they must right the wrongs of the past if they're ever to break the shackles of their future.

This is another book that I really wanted to love, but ultimately ended up as just not a perfect fit for my personal reading tastes. I liked a lot about Nicole Dweck's centuries-sprawling romance, but I was rather blase when I hoped to be emotionally involved.

The basic elements that I enjoy from my favorite historical fiction are all there (conflicting cultures, religious upheaval, secret pasts!), but for me, the story lost much of its appeal when it moved to the more modern storylines with Selim/Ayda/Hannah as opposed to the more interesting Reyna/Tamar/Murat's lives in the 16th century. I can see why others love the story Dweck has created here, but it just didn't resonate with me the way I had hoped.

In her debut, Dweck's style is similar to that of Kate Morton or Susanna Kearsely --  interlinking stories across subsequent generations and various continents in one overarching plot. Dweck's consists of that same basic narrative structure, but she isn't afraid to toss in flashbacks to various other points in the lives of her characters when wanted. The lives she portrays are varied and different, but ultimately too short of a glimpse to form really lasting impressions of any of the characters.

The pacing was one of the main issues for me in The Debt of Tamar; the story is quite short with a lot of time to cover so gaps of five/ten years in the life of a character appear often and leave the reader disjointed. And then, once I would finally start to invest in a certain character, the story would jump ahead hundreds of years to his/her descendant. That disrupted feel had an impact on my reading. It made for an uneven pace and minimal characterization across the board.

The novel is highly readable, despite my misgivings. The added benefits of place-as-character and atmosphere also made The Debt of Tamar's story feel rich and real. It was beyond refreshing to read a historical novel predominately set in a non-English/French world, especially one with Turkish and Jewish main characters. The strengths of the novel lie in these areas, but even with a tendency to show rather than tell, Dweck can turn a phrase. This author has a talent for prose that occasionally shines through, and with nurturing, has promise to become truly impressive.
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