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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Review: The Steel Beneath the Silk (The Emma of Normandy Trilogy #3) by Patricia Bracewell

A breathtaking conclusion to Bracewell’s Emma of Normandy Trilogy, brimming with treachery, heartache, tenderness and passion as the English queen confronts ambitious and traitorous councilors, invading armies and the Danish king’s power-hungry concubine.

In the year 1012 England’s Norman-born Queen Emma has been ten years wed to an aging, ruthless, haunted King Æthelred. The marriage is a bitterly unhappy one, between a queen who seeks to create her own sphere of influence within the court and a suspicious king who eyes her efforts with hostility and resentment. But royal discord shifts to grudging alliance when Cnut of Denmark, with the secret collusion of his English concubine Elgiva, invades England at the head of a massive viking army. Amid the chaos of war, Emma must outwit a fierce enemy whose goal is conquest and outmaneuver the cunning Elgiva, who threatens all those whom Emma loves. 

Kindle Edition, 
Expected publication: March 2nd 2021
 by Bellastoria Press
5/5 stars

I had been wondering for a number of years when the final instalment in the Emma of Normandy Trilogy was going to be released.  Excitement mounted in the fall when I heard that March 2nd would be release day.

The previous books in this series, Shadow on the Crown and The Price of Blood were both 5 star reads and this conclusion to the series followed suit.

It is the year 1012 when The Steel Beneath the Silk begins and I'll confess to being a little nervous that I didn't do a reread for fear of forgetting what happened previously.  But those fears were unfounded as people and circumstances were brought back with lots of 'oh right, I remember that' or 'yea I remember her now' - Elgiva comes to mind there.

Emma is one of those women I knew nothing about until I read this series and now I am on the lookout to learn more about her and the time period.  She was a formidable woman, a pawn for her family who lived life with courage, heartache and by the time this book takes places she has rooted herself in England. She was a woman ahead of her time, a queen with confidence and integrity.

This book was vivid in not just character development but with a story that was vivid.  I love what she wrote in the author notes -

Because I write fiction and not history, I do not claim that things happened exactly in the way, only that they could have.

Which is what I love in historical fiction.  This book was well researched and the author put me right there.  The closer I got to the end the faster I read, loving the ending though not at all what I expected - remember I didn't know my history on Emma.

This series is one I highly recommend. If you are a fan of Eleanor of Aquitaine you should give this series a go.

My thanks to the author and Netgalley for this digital arc in exchange for an honest review.





Sunday, February 28, 2021

Review: Sons of Rome (Rise of Emperors #1) by Simon Turney, Gordon Doherty

Four Emperors. Two Friends. One Destiny.

As twilight descends on the 3rd century AD, the Roman Empire is but a shadow of its former self. Decades of usurping emperors, splinter kingdoms, and savage wars have left the people beleaguered, the armies weary and the future uncertain. And into this chaos Emperor Diocletian steps, reforming the succession to allow for not one emperor to rule the world, but four.

Meanwhile, two boys share a chance meeting in the great city of Treverorum as Diocletian's dream is announced to the imperial court. Throughout the years that follow, they share heartbreak and glory as that dream sours and the empire endures an era of tyranny and dread. Their lives are inextricably linked, their destinies ever-converging as they rise through Rome's savage stations, to the zenith of empire. For Constantine and Maxentius, the purple robes beckon. 

Hardcover, 528 pages
Expected publication: March 1st 2021
 by Head of Zeus
4.5/5 stars


It's been a while since I've spent time in the Roman Empire era, this book has reminded me how much I have enjoyed it and have been missing out.  It's the 3rd century AD when a chance meeting connects 2 boys who will grow to become good friends in an era of chaos, violence and heartache.

Sons of Rome is told alternately between these two friends, Constantine and Maxentius, spanning many years.  It's also penned by two authors which takes a special hand to keep the narrative smooth without the reader detecting the change of hands.  It's evident that Turney and Doherty have researched extensively and brought this story to life with its vivid descriptions of not just the locale and the players but the political climate and its history.  There is a large cast of characters but not overwhelmingly so, it enhances the story making it authentic.  Other then hearing the name Constantine I knew nothing of his claim to fame. As for Maxentius, that was a new one for me, which just made this read all the more enjoyable.

With four emperors ruling, the battle for power along with the brutality (sometimes a little on the heavy side) Sons of Rome is a well written story by two new to me authors.  It's a story of relationships, those between friends and parent and even rivals.  This is the first in a new series with Masters of Rome being book #2, which I am looking forward to reading.

My thanks to Head of Zeus for print copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Friday, February 26, 2021

Review: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz,

Step back to an English village in 1255, where life plays out in dramatic vignettes illuminating twenty-two unforgettable characters.

Maidens, monks, and millers’ sons — in these pages, readers will meet them all. 

There’s Hugo, the lord’s nephew, forced to prove his manhood by hunting a wild boar; sharp-tongued Nelly, who supports her family by selling live eels; and the peasant’s daughter, Mogg, who gets a clever lesson in how to save a cow from a greedy landlord. 

There’s also mud-slinging Barbary (and her noble victim); Jack, the compassionate half-wit; Alice, the singing shepherdess; and many more. 

With a deep appreciation for the period and a grand affection for both characters and audience, Laura Amy Schlitz creates twenty-two riveting portraits and linguistic gems equally suited to silent reading or performance.

 Illustrated with pen-and-ink drawings by Robert Byrd — inspired by the Munich-Nuremberg manuscript, an illuminated poem from thirteenth-century Germany — this witty, historically accurate, and utterly human collection forms an exquisite bridge to the people and places of medieval England.

Hardcover, 96 pages
Published July 24th 2007
by Candlewick
3/5 stars

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! is the 2008 John Newbery Medal Winner.  I am not totally sure what the criteria is to win this honour but Good Masters is a different format to other medal winners that I have read. 

Told is a series of plays/skits geared for a younger audience its pretty much a history lesson with different members of society from different classes.  It's educational, told in verse mostly and illustrated nicely. It was a fun read, I even learned a few things about medieval England. It was well researched and would make a nice addition to class rooms.

My copy was from my bookshelf and not just part of my 2021 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge
 but also reading the John Newbery Medal Winners.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Spotlight: Cold Case Story by Stephanie Kane

 

COLD CASE STORY

Cold Hard Press — March 1, 2021

Cold Case Story is about a family fractured along the fault lines of a murder. It’s about kids made to choose sides and aunts who never forgot. It’s about fiction and reality colliding, how one shapes the other and how fiction has real consequences. It’s also a very personal story of what it’s like to ping-pong between participant and observer, novelist and catalyst and witness to your own uneasy set of facts.


The past is never dead. It’s not even past.
— William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

All are punish’d.
— Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Cold Case Story is based on the brutal murder of a housewife in the Denver suburbs in 1973. A college student back then, Stephanie Kane was more than a witness to this terrible crime. For nearly thirty years, she remained silent. Then, in 2001, she tried to exorcise it by fictionalizing it in a mystery novel called Quiet Time. But instead of laying the murder to rest, Quiet Time brought it roaring back to life.

Cold Case Story is about a family that fractured along the fault lines of a murder. It’s about fiction colliding with a cold hard crime, and the very personal story of how it feels to ping-pong between participant and observer, novelist and witness to one’s own uneasy set of facts. In the end, all are punished—even the guilty.


COLD CASE STORY 
 Cold Hard Press, March 1, 2021  
Paperback: Kindle 
ISBN: 978-7336715-6-9

Stephanie Kane is a lawyer and award-winning author of four crime novels. Born in Brooklyn, she came to Colorado as a freshman at CU. She owned and ran a karate studio in Boulder and is a second-degree black belt. After graduating from law school, she was a corporate partner at a top Denver law firm before becoming a criminal defense attorney. She has lectured on money laundering and white collar crime in Eastern Europe, and given workshops throughout the country on writing technique. She lives in Denver with her husband and two black cats.



Extreme Indifference and Seeds of Doubt won a Colorado Book Award for Mystery and two Colorado Authors League Awards for Genre Fiction. She belongs to Mystery Writers of America, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the Colorado Authors League.



CONNECT WITH STEPHANIE KANE ONLINE

WEBSITE: writerkane.com

FACEBOOK: /AuthorStephanieKane

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Review: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

In this addictive and spectacularly imagined debut, a female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course.

Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.

Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating exploration of women rebelling against a man’s world, the destructive force of revenge and the remarkable ways that women can save each other despite the barrier of time. 

Kindle Edition, 320 pages
Expected publication: March 2nd 2021 
by Park Row Books/HarperCollins
4/5 stars

Thanks to the fine folks at Park Row Books/Harper Collins this was a combination listen and read book.  I've done this a couple times, its great for getting a real sense of the voices through the audio and curling up on the couch for a read rounds it off nicely.

Debut author, Sarah Penner has written this dual time period story told through 3 different narratives, two in the past and one present day.  Naturally I was drawn to the past for its mystery and history.  I loved listening to Nella tell her story on the audio, the narrator had a dark edgy tone that had me visualising probably more then what was written - does that make sense? Definitely the audio for the past worked nicely.  

The present day story was interesting enough,  mud larking was a new term for me and now I want to go to England and mud lark, searching for lost treasures. It was an interesting thread, I liked Caroline's drive and watching her transition but it was the past that keep me reading.

The Lost Apothecary is a story of herbs, while usually to heal this time it's the opposite.  Getting to know Nella through her past answered the question of why she does what she does.  The friendship with Eliza and ramifications turned this into a story of survival with some suspense and sacrifice. 

A solid debut that I highly recommend.

Both the audio and ebook were provided by publisher (via Netgalley) in exchange
 for an honest review.



 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Review: The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan

In a new World War II-set story from the bestselling author of The Chilbury Ladies' Choir, four women compete for a spot hosting a wartime cookery program called The Kitchen Front - based on the actual BBC program of the same name - as well as a chance to better their lives.

Two years into WW2, Britain is feeling her losses; the Nazis have won battles, the Blitz has destroyed cities, and U-boats have cut off the supply of food. In an effort to help housewives with food rationing, a BBC radio program called The Kitchen Front is putting on a cooking contest--and the grand prize is a job as the program's first-ever female co-host. For four very different women, winning the contest presents a crucial chance to change their lives.

For a young widow, it's a chance to pay off her husband's debts and keep a roof over her children's heads. For a kitchen maid, it's a chance to leave servitude and find freedom. For the lady of the manor, it's a chance to escape her wealthy husband's increasingly hostile behavior. And for a trained chef, it's a chance to challenge the men at the top of her profession.

These four women are giving the competition their all--even if that sometimes means bending the rules. But with so much at stake, will the contest that aims to bring the community together serve only to break it apart?

Kindle Edition, 416 pages
Expected publication: February 23rd 2021
 by Ballantine Books
4/5 stars

Happy Release Day to Jennifer Ryan! The Kitchen Front as been released into the world.

At first I wasn't sure that I was ready for another WW2 book, they can be emotionally draining at times.  When I first started this book my initial thought was that it would be a lighter story about 4 women squabbling in the kitchen.  But low and behold as the story progressed it showed a side of the war not often seen.  These 4 women had different roles but longed for something else.

Playing off a BBC radio program, I loved how some of the chapters ended with some recipes from the actual time period and using ingredients available at that time.  The struggles these women faced was vividly portrayed and authentic.  It's an emotional time as they confront inner demons while at the same time come together for this cooking completion where they get more than they bargained for.

The Kitchen Front is a story of personal growth, reaching out, forgiveness and relationships. It's finding the strength to step out of their comfort zone and taking risks.  I'm glad that I read this book, it was uplifting watching the changes that take place.  Definitely a book and author I recommend.

My thanks to Ballantine Books (via Netgalley) for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Review: Dark August by Katie Tallo

An electrifying, page-turning debut about a young woman haunted by her tragic past, who returns to her hometown and discovers that there might be more to her police detective mother’s death—and last case—than she ever could have imagined.

Augusta (Gus) Monet is living an aimless existence with her grifter boyfriend when she learns that her great grandmother—her last living relative—has just died. Ditching her boyfriend, Gus returns to the home she left as a young girl. Her inheritance turns out to be a dilapidated house and an old dog named Levi. While combing through her great grandmother’s possessions, Gus stumbles across an old trunk filled with long-lost childhood belongings. But that’s not all the trunk contains. She also discovers cold case files that belonged to her mother, a disgraced police detective who died in a car accident when Gus was eight. Gus remembers her mother obsessing over these very same documents and photographs, especially a Polaroid of a young ballerina.

When Gus spots a front-page news story about the unearthing of a body linked to one of the cold case files from her grandmother’s trunk, she can’t resist following her mother’s clues. As she digs deeper, determined to finish her mother’s investigation, her search leads her to a deserted ghost town, which was left abandoned when the residents fled after a horrific fire. As Gus’ obsession with the case grows, she inadvertently stirs up the evils of the past, putting her life in danger. But Gus refuses to be undeterred and is committed to uncovering long-buried secrets, including the secrets surrounding a missing geology student, the young ballerina in the Polaroid, a prominent family’s devastating legacy, and a toxic blast that blew an entire town off the map.

But is Gus ready to learn the truths that culminated on one terrible August night, more than a decade earlier, when lives were taken, and secrets were presumed buried forever…?

Dark August introduces a bold new voice and will leave readers guessing until the final startling conclusion.

Paperback, 448 pages
Published June 30th 2020
 by Harper Paperbacks
4.5/5 stars

It's always fun to read a book with a setting close to home and am familiar with.  I had no idea where or what this book was about, it was part of a SweetReadsBox last summer.  Hearing rave reviews and the book calling my name I hunkered down during the last snow storm and dove it.

Beginning when Gus (Augusta) is 20 years old the story weaves with back memories to slowly reveal a mysterious town, unexplained disappearances and repressed memories.  Although it started out a tad slow it wasn't long before I was immersed in what happened and what was happening.

It's a long winded blurb so no need to add more.  Suffice to say that I liked the author's writing style, it was atmospheric with an intricate plot and a cast of untrustworthy characters.  It might have been a little predictable, but then again maybe not so much. I liked the ending which was satisfying and fitting.

Dark August is a story of grief, closure and trying to right wrongs.  A solid debut that has me wondering when another Katie Tallo book will appear.

This book is part of my 2021 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge




Saturday, February 20, 2021

Review: Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson

To survive the Holocaust, a young Jewish woman must pose as a Christian farmer’s wife in this unforgettable novel from USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Robson—a story of terror, hope, love, and sacrifice, inspired by true events, that vividly evokes the most perilous days of World War II.

It is the autumn of 1943, and life is becoming increasingly perilous for Italian Jews like the Mazin family. With Nazi Germany now occupying most of her beloved homeland, and the threat of imprisonment and deportation growing ever more certain, Antonina Mazin has but one hope to survive—to leave Venice and her beloved parents and hide in the countryside with a man she has only just met.

Nico Gerardi was studying for the priesthood until circumstances forced him to leave the seminary to run his family’s farm. A moral and just man, he could not stand by when the fascists and Nazis began taking innocent lives. Rather than risk a perilous escape across the mountains, Nina will pose as his new bride. And to keep her safe and protect secrets of his own, Nico and Nina must convince prying eyes they are happily married and in love.

But farm life is not easy for a cultured city girl who dreams of becoming a doctor like her father, and Nico’s provincial neighbors are wary of this soft and educated woman they do not know. Even worse, their distrust is shared by a local Nazi official with a vendetta against Nico. The more he learns of Nina, the more his suspicions grow—and with them his determination to exact revenge.

As Nina and Nico come to know each other, their feelings deepen, transforming their relationship into much more than a charade. Yet both fear that every passing day brings them closer to being torn apart . . ..

Paperback, 384 pages
Published January 5th 2021 
by William Morrow Paperbacks
4.5/5 stars

Jennifer Robson is one author that I have managed to read everything as released.  She was also the first author event I attended back when her debut, Somewhere in France, was released in 2013.  While I have enjoyed all her books I find they get better with each new one.  

One of the things this pandemic has done is made virtual author events easily accessible with zoom and video chats on both Facebook and Instagram.  Jennifer Robson has shared the initial inspiration for this book and I encourage readers to check out her website at https://jennifer-robson.com/ where you can follow the links to see pics and videos that add so much to this story.

Our Darkest Night is a well researched WW2 story taking place in Italy.  Getting a different perspective reinforced the brutality the Nazis wheeled. Even with the distance from Germany Jewish people suffered, were abused and boarded trains to destinations unknown.  The first part of the book showed the strong family bond and what life was like in this village.  As it progressed the darkness of the war was shown and at times hard to read.  I definitely felt a wide range of emotions reading this book.

Again Robson has written a story of hope, strength, family and endurance.  A book that I will recommend.

This book was part of my 2021 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge.





Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Review: Legendborn (Legendborn #1) by Tracy Deonn

After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.

A flying demon feeding on human energies.

A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.

And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.

The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.

She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight. 

Hardcover, 512 pages
Published September 15th 2020
 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
4/5 stars

I've heard of authors that dislike comments along the lines of 'such and such genre isn't my thing but I read it anyway and that's why I don't like this book'. Can't say I blame them, why read a book that you know you won't like? Right?  In my case I'll confess that fantasy isn't really my thing but I would never penalise a book because I wanted to try the genre out.  Sometimes its good to step out of ones comfort zone and see if there is something you might be missing.  Such is the case with Legendborn which was part of an Owlcrate YA box, I was thrilled to open this book and see the roll Arthur/Merlin and that whole legend play.

Legendborn is more than just a story about the Arthur legend, it's about a young girl and the grief and despair she goes though with the loss of her mother.

This hardcover comes in at almost 500 pages, it was fast paced (though its a bit hard on the wrists to hold after a while).  With the opening scenes I was hooked and just wanted to give Bree a hug, so ya I was drawn in right away and never looked back. 

There are so many things besides grief that shine through - I loved the diversity, what Black women endure, history/slavery and the Arthurian legend.

The world building was kinda staggering, with attention to detail everything made sense and clicked into place.  The characters weren't perfect, a nice mix of those I like and others not so much.  The action scenes vivid, there were twists and turns.  As for the ending, I was caught off guard and loved it - a great opening for book 2.  Yea it's the start of a new series.

So slowly I am reading more YA fantasy books maybe, just maybe I might graduate to adult fantasy but lets not push that just yet.

This book was part of my 2021 Reading Off My Shelf Challenged and obtained from the fine folks at Owlcrate which included a special cover and signed by the author.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Review: An Unexpected Peril (Veronica Speedwell #6) by Deanna Raybourn

A princess is missing, and a peace treaty is on the verge of collapse in this new Veronica Speedwell adventure from the New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award-nominated author Deanna Raybourn.

January 1889. As the newest member of the Curiosity Club—an elite society of brilliant, intrepid women—Veronica Speedwell is excited to put her many skills to good use. As she assembles a memorial exhibition for pioneering mountain climber Alice Baker-Greene, Veronica discovers evidence that the recent death was not a tragic climbing accident but murder. Veronica and her natural historian beau, Stoker, tell the patron of the exhibit, Princess Gisela of Alpenwald, of their findings. With Europe on the verge of war, Gisela's chancellor, Count von Rechstein, does not want to make waves—and before Veronica and Stoker can figure out their next move, the princess disappears.

Having noted Veronica's resemblance to the princess, von Rechstein begs her to pose as Gisela for the sake of the peace treaty that brought the princess to England. Veronica reluctantly agrees to the scheme. She and Stoker must work together to keep the treaty intact while navigating unwelcome advances, assassination attempts, and Veronica's own family—the royalty who has never claimed her. 

Kindle Edition, 336 pages
Expected publication: March 2nd 2021 
by Berkley
4/5 stars

What better day to post a review of one of my favourite couples, Veronica and Stoker, than Valentine's Day.

An Unexpected Peril is book 6 in Deanna Raybourn's Veronica Speedwell Series and one I've been waiting for.  On any given day it's great to spend time with this couple but even more so now given what the world is going through.  If you've read this series you'll know what I mean and if not...well you should pick up A Curious Beginning.

Again in typical Raybourn style, she delivers a unique story that sets Veronica and Stoker on a path filled with mystery, suspicion and, danger with a group of unreliable characters. There were new faces and new places along with some familiar faces. The mystery part had some twists and turns, quite entertaining with the usual bantering and comments that made me smile and put me in my happy place.

This Veronica Speedwell Series is one of my favorite series, I love that each story is different, the time period is great and I love watching their relationship develop.  Definietely a series I highly recommend and suggest starting at the beginning with A Curious Beginning.

My thanks to Berkley for an advanced ARC (via Netgalley) in exchange for an honest review.