Review: Blood & Sand by C.V. Wyk

Blood and Sand (Blood and Sand, #1)Blood and Sand by C.V. Wyk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

HOLY UNDERRATED BOOK!!

This one took me by surprise.
Gender flipped Spartacus retelling?
I am so here for that!

When Attia, a warrior princess who has lost all of her people to slaughter by the Romans, finds herself handed over as a gift to a champion gladiator, all she can think of is escape. Escape and revenge.

Trained from a young age to fight in hand-to-hand combat, Attia is a force to be reckoned with from the very first pages.

This girl is badass and not afraid to show it. Navigating her captivity, Attia begins to feel out who she can consider an ally and who is an enemy.

Xanthus, the man to whom Attia is gifted, is a prized Gladiator. Known as the best of his kin, he ruthlessly slays down all who come before him. Things are often not as they appear however and overtime you learn Xanthus may not be as ruthless as they would have you believe.

As is often the case, it turns out the rock of a man has a heart of gold, and that’s just how I like them.

Attia and Xanthus become attached to one another in a deep and meaningful way over an admittedly short amount of time. Did I care? No.

If you loathe an instalove trope, you may have some issue with this. Honestly though, the way this is told, you may be too busy dodging the blood and guts to even care.

Ancient Rome was brutal, y’all, and I like that Wyk doesn’t shy away from that. Sure, this is a romance, but it is wrapped in a historical cloak that makes it so much more than that. I found the atmosphere of this vivid and visceral.

There were scenes set in Pompeii that made you feel like you were there. I mean, really the whole book made you feel that way, but I have always been intrigued by the volcano. Fascinating, right!?

Overall, I was really impressed with this. There is a bit of a cliffhanger ending that has left me chomping at the bit. Let’s hope the release happens in 2019!!!

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Review: Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

Daughter of Moloka'i (Moloka'i, #2)Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One moment while I put the pieces of my heart back together…

Daughter of Moloka’i is a follow-up novel to Brennert’s 2004 Book Club sensation, Moloka’i. This is a sequel I never knew I needed, until I did.
After reading it, I cannot imagine not knowing the conclusion to Rachel’s story.

This book.
I have never cried so much while reading a book.
Ever.

It never let up. That may sound like a negative, but it was cathartic, man.

This story follows, Ruth, the girl that Rachel was forced to give up for adoption just hours after she was born. We start with Ruth’s life in a Home For Girls and follow her all the way through into her adulthood. Moving from Hawaii to California with her adoptive Japanese family, Ruth, lives through some challenging times, including her family’s incarceration in a Japanese Interment Camp following the events at Pearl Harbor.

As with other disgraceful pieces of history, this type of atrocious event is not one you find often in modern fiction. I knew these interment camps existed but reading about it from Ruth’s perspective was heart-wrenching. To consider the types of injustices that were suffered upon so many innocent people, it was hard. I applaud Brennert for his research efforts which were evident.

I was asked a while back if you had to read the first book in order to read this one. While I believe that you can read this as a stand-alone, your reading experience can only be enhanced by reading Moloka’i first. Add to this the fact that Moloka’i stands strong as one of the most beautiful books I have ever read, I don’t think you will be disappointed.

If you like sweeping historical fiction that explores what it means to live and the strength of family, both blood and found, this is a duology you do not want to miss. While it broke my heart a million times, I am grateful to have read it.

Thank you so much to the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for providing me with a copy to read and review. Also, thank you to Alan Brennert for writing such a remarkable story. I will be thinking about Rachel and Ruth for years to come.

Original:

I wanted this ARC sooooo much!

This is the companion novel to Alan Brennert’s 2004 novel, Moloka’i which follows Rachel Kalama, a young Hawaiian girl who is separated from her family and sent to live in a leprosy colony.

This novel follows Rachel’s daughter, Ruth, who as a baby was taken from her care.

Mokoka’i is one of the most beautiful and moving historical fiction novels I have EVER read and I am absolutely beside myself that we are getting a second book in this ‘world’. If it is anything like this first one, I am in for a very special treat! Yayeeeeeeee!!!!

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Review: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

The Lost Girls of ParisThe Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Vivid.
Inspirational.
Poignant.

I had zero issues with this book.
I was sucked in from the very beginning and that feeling never let up.

Following three perspectives, this historical fiction novel weaves together a beautifully intricate story of women who worked in special ops for the UK during WWII.

Following the development of the SOE’s Women’s Unit, we follow the founder and head of that unit, Eleanor, along with one of the women recruited to go undercover in Paris, Marie Roux.

The third perspective, Grace, is a young woman living in NYC in 1946. After a night she would just as soon forget, Grace discovers an abandoned suitcase in Grand Central Station. Unable to quash her curiosity, she opens the case and discovers photographs of young women. Who are these women? Who does the case belong to? Why was it abandoned here?

Grace begins to investigate the mysterious photographs and discovers so much more than she bargained for.

Loosely based on true events, this story brings history to life. Although this is fiction, it made me think about and appreciate what these women, and others like them, went through and sacrificed (spoiler alert: EVERYTHING) for their country and what they believed was right. Despite the fact that this is a heartbreaking story, it is also an inspirational story and I hope other people draw from it what I did.

Jenoff did such a great job telling this story and I think, again, although the women in this story are fictional, she did a great service to the ACTUAL women of the SOE, and their memory, by bringing their existence into the light. I hope they turn this into a film. I think it could translate to that medium really well and it could help to bring this story to a wider population.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Park Row Books, for providing me with a copy of this book to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity and am absolutely in love with this book. I can’t wait for more readers to get their hands on it so we can discuss!

Prediction: This will win Goodreads Choice Award 2019 for Best Historical Fiction. I know it’s early but it WILL get my vote!

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Review: The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox

The Witch of Willow HallThe Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

Forced to flee Boston in the wake of scandalous rumors, the Montrose Family, moves into their summer estate, Willow Hall, in New Oldbury, Massachusetts. The three sisters – Catherine, Lydia & Emeline – take the move as well as can be expected and before too long are settling into their new life with only minor complaints.

The setting and language of this novel are absolutely beautiful. I was surprised to learn this is a debut as the writing seems so experienced. I loved the gothic vibes that extend throughout the story. There is always an underlining feeling of menace just under the surface. In regards to witchcraft, it is subtle in nature, and I felt very well portrayed. It is by no means the bulk of the story but hints of it are sprinkled throughout with it becoming a more prominent feature in the second half.

The interactions between the sisters, particularly Catherine and Lydia, reminded me so much of Downton Abbey with Mary and Edith. It is not a warm and fuzzy sisterly relationship by any means and in fact, their constant battling provides most of the drama in the book.

There is also quite a bit of romance. I am so exhausted by the courtship patterns of this time period. I just cannot even imagine dealing with all that formality. No one ever seems to say what they feel. GAHHHHHHH. Honestly, it’s a wonder anyone ended up with the person they wanted to be with!

Overall, I was very impressed with the book. It was a pleasure to read. All the drama, the overarching feeling of suspense, the subtle supernatural undertones, the hauntings, the domestic drama – soooo fun!

I did take off a half a star just because there were moments where I felt the drama was repetitive and could have been shortened up a bit but that is very slight and 100% my opinion. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves historical fiction, especially if you enjoy things with a gothic atmosphere.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Graydon House Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I very much appreciate the opportunity and and am kicking myself for not having picked this up in October as I had originally planned. I cannot wait to see what Ms. Fox comes up with next!

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Review: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

The WonderThe Wonder by Emma Donoghue
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Last night I was discussing Emma Donoghue books with a friend. She had just finished Room and mentioned that although she liked the writing, she had to push herself to get through it. I mentioned that I had only read one of her books, The Wonder. I looked it up on Goodreads, as having finished it in March of this year, I couldn’t recall what I had given it for a star rating and discovered I had not written a review yet!

Since one of my 2018 book goals was to review every book I read, I am here to report a few of my thoughts on this one. The Wonder follows an English nurse, Lib, sent to a rural village in Ireland in the late 1850s to investigate a young girl reported to be living for months without intaking any food. Her family claims she is a living miracle, tourists are flocking to the village to witness this and journalists are covering the case. Lib, highly skeptical from the very beginning works closely with the girl, making sure she is never out from under supervision. What sort of fraud is this? Or is it indeed a miracle?

Some of the writing regarding the Irish people and village was a little off putting but I kept reminding myself this was from the perspective of this nurse, traveling to this location from London, in the 1850s and was probably an accurate portrayal of the ideas/prejudices that someone in her position may have had at this time. I don’t want to say too much more about this aspect of the story, it was just something that annoyed me a wee bit whilst reading.

Overall, I felt this was a compelling and enjoyable read. I would have preferred a bit more mystery and a little faster pace but I did definitely enjoy unraveling this tale.

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Review: As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner

Publication Date: February 6, 2018

As Bright as Heaven truly impressed me as a work of historical fiction. I loved the format of the book, following three sisters and their mother in the early 1920s, the chapters cycle through each woman’s perspective. Due to this, the book also felt very pertinent as a piece of women’s literature. All of the ladies involved in this book were dealing with issues involving what society expected of them based on their gender – one very interesting aspect of this, is that they were all at different stages in their lives so you really got a feel for issues that arise during all points of a woman’s life.

I was moved by this book – I found it to be an excellent examination of not just women’s lives and issues but also mortality and choices. The book focuses a lot on the choices we make, how they influence the path, or stories, of our lives. Additionally, there was a strong focus on how our choices can also have great repercussions for the lives of those around us. There were some deep and moving passages in this book; passages that gave me pause to reflect on the words and how they hold true even in my life.

I loved the setting of the book and the time – the Spanish flu is not an event I have really heard much about and I love history and reading non-fiction books. This story really brings to light how devastating this flu was around the world and I am definitely interested in learning more history about this event.

I would recommend this book to any of the women in my life but I also think men could really enjoy this beautifully told story – I wouldn’t want to leave them out! Well done to Ms. Meissner! Thank you so much to the publisher, Berkley Books, for providing me with a copy to review. I appreciate the opportunity to experience this gorgeous story and share my thoughts on it.

Status Update: The Darkling Bride

Hello book friends!  I just wanted to give a quick status update on my progress through The Darkling Bride by Laura Andersen.  As I may have mentioned in a earlier post, I received an Advanced Readers Copy (ARC) of this book from the publisher, Ballantine Books, in exchange for an honest review which has an expected publication date of April 2018.

I am currently just over 60% through this book.  I am loving it!  Originally, I went into the book thinking, historical fiction, but I have discovered it is really so much more than that.  The book does weave a bit of historical fiction into what is actually more of a modern day murder mystery.  The main storyline takes place in a very old (and possibly haunted) castle in the County Wicklow.  Our protagonist, Carragh, is an archivist sent to the castle to archive their extensive historical library.  There she finds not just books but mystery, suspense, gothic settings, a potential love match, long guarded family secrets and an unsolved murder that sees its investigation rekindled.

There is so much to love about this book and I am hoping that many, many readers get to enjoy it as much as I am once it is published in the Spring!

Review: The Outcasts of Time by Ian Mortimer

Pegasus Books expected publication date: January 2, 2018

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wow – what a book! I know I will be mentally processing this one for a while – thank heavens for Kindle highlighting. I did a lot of highlighting during the course of reading this book, not because the concepts were difficult to understand or follow but because they were so meaningful. Ian Mortimer, as many know, is a wonderful historian, and he doesn’t disappoint with this work. The Outcasts of Time is indeed a work of fiction but is replete with very specific historical details; it runs through every element of the story.

Although there is a ‘time travel’ in this story, I wouldn’t classify it is science-fiction or fantasy. The only ‘magical’ element is the fact that the main character is, as he puts it, ‘skipping across time like a stone across water’; all other elements of the story are realistic. The time travel element allows the author to delve into a cultural examination of place through the passing of time that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. In a way, this reminds me of the format of Octavia Butler’s, Kindred; where time travel is similarly used to examine cultural changes over time.

Mortimer truly digs deep into society and how the workings of that change over time due to things like increased wealth, better living conditions, changes to transportation and the invention of more powerful and devastating weaponry. A phrase repeated throughout the work, ‘homo homini daemon’ – man is devil to man, speaks to the heart of some of the issues taken up in this work, that seems just as much a philosophical treatise as a work of fiction. A couple of my favorite lines being, “The man who has no knowledge of the past has no wisdom” and “…you must see what you mean to others to know your true worth.” The last paragraph practically made my heart explode as the narrative came to its resounding conclusion.

I am so glad that I had the opportunity to read this book – thank you to Pegasus Books for providing me with a copy. I would definitely recommend this book to history lovers of all kinds!