Tag: history

Book Review:  The Sultan’s Court, by R.A. Denny

Image belongs to the author.

TitleThe Sultan’s Court
Author:   R.A. Denny
Genre:   YA, fantasy, historical
Rating:  4.0  

Left behind as a slave in Morocco while Daniel journeys to the New World with the fearsome corsair Ayoub, Peri gives birth to a daughter. The drive to protect the imperiled lives of those she loves leads Peri to the court of the ruthless sultan, Moulay Ismail. In a city built on the backs of slaves, Peri’s rescue plot hangs by a thread, dependent on a dubious disguise and the man she despises. It will take all of her wit and perseverance to survive.

 This spellbinding 2nd novel in the Pirates and Puritans Series takes the reader on a journey from Algonquin villages to Moroccan palaces, during the time when Morocco’s most feared leader rose to power and the American colonies sank into a bloody war named after Metacom.

 I really like the premise of this series:  time travel to the time of the early Puritan settlements in America. In the first book, I enjoyed getting to know Peri and Daniel. This takes their story further…but not their story together, as they are separated for almost two decades in this novel. I didn’t enjoy that aspect as much as I enjoyed the first book.

There’s a lot going on here:  Peri’s story, Daniel’s story (in several different locations and cultures), things set in the future (where Peri’s from), and even scenes from their enemy’s point-of-view. The author weaves these threads together to make a coherent whole, but don’t let the POV switches make you miss out on the nuances of this well-rounded adventure.

R.A Denny has a law degree from Duke University but chooses to do just what she loves:  write. The Sultan’s Court is her newest novel, the second in the Pirates and Puritans series.

(Galley courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  Beyond the Lavender Fields, by Arlem Hawks

Shadow Mountain Publishing.

Title:   Beyond the Lavender Fields
Author:   Arlem Hawks
Genre:   Historical fiction
Rating:  4.2 out of 5

1792, France 

Rumors of revolution in Paris swirl in Marseille, a bustling port city in southern France. Gilles Étienne, a clerk at the local soap factory, thrives on the news. Committed to the cause of equality, liberty, and brotherhood, he and his friends plan to march to Paris to dethrone the monarchy. His plans are halted when he meets Marie-Caroline Daubin, the beautiful daughter of the owner of the factory.

 A bourgeoise and royalist, Marie-Caroline has been called home to Marseille to escape the unrest in Paris. She rebuffs Gilles’s efforts to charm her and boldly expresses her view that violently imposed freedom is not really freedom for all. As Marie-Caroline takes risks to follow her beliefs, Gilles catches her in a dangerous secret that could cost her and her family their lives. As Gilles and Marie-Caroline spend more time together, she questions her initial assumptions about Gilles and realizes that perhaps they have more in common than she thought.

 As the spirit of revolution descends on Marseille, people are killed and buildings are ransacked and burned to the ground. Gilles must choose between supporting the political change he believes in and protecting those he loves. And Marie-Caroline must battle between standing up for what she feels is right and risking her family’s safety. With their lives and their nation in turmoil, both Gilles and Marie-Caroline wonder if a révolutionnaire and a royaliste can really be together in a world that forces people to choose sides.

The setting of this novel was a new one for me, and I really enjoyed it! I really like how both characters—but especially Gilles—grew during the course of the novel. He started off as a self-absorbed, oblivious jerk who hated his father, but he changed so much through. Their separate journeys to understanding and growth were even more enjoyable to me than their romance. This is a sweet read set against the French revolution.

Arlem Hawks graduated from Brigham Young University. Beyond the Lavender Fields is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Shadow Mountain Publishing in exchange for an honest review.)

 

Book Review:  The Lady of Galway Manor, by Jennifer Deibel

Image belongs to Revell.

Title:   The Lady of Galway Manor
Author:   Jennifer Deibel
Genre:   Christian
Rating:  4 out of 5

In 1920, Annabeth De Lacy’s father is appointed landlord of Galway Parish in Ireland. Bored without all the trappings of the British Court, Annabeth convinces her father to arrange an apprenticeship for her with the Jennings family–descendants of the creator of the famed Claddagh Ring.

 Stephen Jennings longs to do anything other than run his family’s jewelry shop. Having had his heart broken, he no longer believes in love and is weary of peddling the ÒliesÓ the Claddagh Ring promises.

 Meanwhile, as the war for Irish independence gains strength, many locals resent the De Lacys and decide to take things into their own hands to display their displeasure. As events take a dangerous turn for Annabeth and her family, she and Stephen begin to see that perhaps the “other side” isn’t quite as barbaric and uncultured as they’d been led to believe–and that the bonds of friendship, love, and loyalty are only made stronger when put through the refiner’s fire.

I don’t remember reading anything set during this period—definitely not recently—so I enjoyed the historical aspect of this. The Jennings men were both strong characters that I really liked. Annabeth’s father was a bit of a pompous, selfish jerk, but I loved her relationship with her sister. This was a sweet read with a lovely romance.

Jennifer Deibel lives in Arizona. The Lady of Galway Manor is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Revell in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour:  The Last Grand Duchess, by Bryn Turnbull

Image belongs to Harlequin.

Title:   The Last Grand Duchess
Author:   Bryn Turnbull
Genre:   Historical fiction
Rating:  DNF

Grand Duchess Olga Romanov comes of age amid a shifting tide for the great dynasties of Europe. But even as unrest simmers in the capital, Olga is content to live within the confines of the sheltered life her parents have built for and her three sisters: hiding from the world on account of their mother’s ill health, their brother Alexei’s secret affliction, and rising controversy over Father Grigori Rasputin, the priest on whom the Tsarina has come to rely. Olga’s only escape from the seclusion of Alexander Palace comes from her aunt, who takes pity on her and her sister Tatiana, inviting them to grand tea parties amid the shadow court of Saint Petersburg. Finally, she glimpses a world beyond her mother’s Victorian sensibilities—a world of opulent ballrooms, scandalous flirtation, and whispered conversation.

 But as war approaches, the palaces of Russia are transformed. Olga and her sisters trade their gowns for nursing habits, assisting in surgeries and tending to the wounded bodies and minds of Russia’s military officers. As troubling rumours about her parents trickle in from the Front, Olga dares to hope that a budding romance might survive whatever the future may hold. But when tensions run high and supplies run low, the controversy over Rasputin grows into fiery protest, and calls for revolution threaten to end 300 years of Romanov rule.

I tried. I really did. I loved Turnbull’s previous book, The Woman Before Wallis, but this one felt so much slower. I made it about 50% of the way through before giving up because every page felt like it was in slow motion. Historical novels about the Romanov family usually fascinate me, so I kept on reading longer than I probably should, but in the end, this just wasn’t a good fit for me right now. The glimpses of the cluelessness of Olga’s parents drove me crazy, and her own naivete about reality combined with the slow pace were just too much for me.

Bryn Turnbull is a bestselling author. The Last Grand Duchess is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour:  A Lullaby for Witches, by Hester Fox

Image belongs to Harlequin.

Title:   A Lullaby for Witches
Author:   Hester Fox
Genre:   Historical fiction
Rating:  3.8 our of 4

Augusta Podos has just landed her dream job, working in collections at a local museum, Harlowe House, located in the charming seaside town of Tynemouth, Massachussetts. Determined to tell the stories of the local community, she throws herself into her work–and finds an oblique mention of a mysterious woman, Margaret, who may have been part of the Harlowe family, but is reduced to a footnote. Fascinated by this strange omission, Augusta becomes obsessed with discovering who Margaret was, what happened to her, and why her family scrubbed her from historical records. But as she does, strange incidents begin plaguing Harlowe House and Augusta herself. Are they connected with Margaret, and what do they mean?

 Tynemouth, 1872. Margaret Harlowe is the beautiful daughter of a wealthy shipping family, and she should have many prospects–but her fascination with herbs and spellwork has made her a pariah, with whispers of “witch” dogging her steps. Increasingly drawn to the darker, forbidden practices of her craft, Margaret finds herself caught up with a local man, Jack Pryce, and the temptation of these darker ways threatens to pull her under completely.

 As the incidents in the present day escalate, Augusta finds herself drawn more and more deeply into Margaret’s world, and a shocking revelation sheds further light on Margaret and Augusta’s shared past. And as Margaret’s sinister purpose becomes clear, Augusta must uncover the secret of Margaret’s fate–before the woman who calls to her across the centuries claims Augusta’s own life.

This was well-written, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did the author’s other books. Mainly because I thought Margaret was a terrible person; very selfish and self-absorbed. I enjoyed Augusta’s POV very much, as she sort of grew into the person she’d kept hidden for years and learned to stand up for herself. The touch of romance was nicely done and didn’t become the priority. I did like the glimpses of life in the past, I just thought Margaret was terrible.

Hester Fox lives in Virginia. A Lullaby for Witches is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  The Storyteller, by Kathryn Williams

Image belongs to HarperCollins/HarperTeen.

Title:   The Storyteller
Author:   Kathryn Williams
Genre:   Historical fiction, YA, mystery/thriller
Rating:  4.2 out of 5

It’s not every day you discover you might be related to Anastasia…or that the tragic princess actually survived her assassination attempt and has been living as the woman you know as Aunt Anna.

 For Jess Morgan, who is growing tired of living her life to please everyone else, discovering her late aunt’s diaries shows her she’s not the only one struggling to hide who she really is. But was her aunt truly a Romanov princess? Or is this some elaborate hoax?

 With the help of a supremely dorky, but undeniably cute, local college student named Evan, Jess digs into the century-old mystery.

 But soon Jess realizes there’s another, bigger truth waiting to be revealed: Jess Morgan. Because if she’s learned anything from Aunt Anna, it’s that only you can write your own story.

I enjoyed this read! It was sweet and fun and I was completely engrossed in the mystery—and both Jess’s story and Aunt Anna’s kept me intrigued. I liked Jess’s friends…but I couldn’t stand her boyfriend. Evan was a lot more relatable and fun. This makes a good weekend binge-read.

Kathryn Williams lives in Maine. The Storyteller is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of HarperCollins Children’s Books, HarperTeen in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  The Last House on the Street, by Diane Chamberlain

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:   The Last House on the Street
Author:   Diane Chamberlain
Genre:   Mystery/thriller
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

When Kayla Carter’s husband dies in an accident while building their dream house, she knows she has to stay strong for their four-year-old daughter. But the trophy home in Shadow Ridge Estates, a new development in sleepy Round Hill, North Carolina, will always hold tragic memories. But when she is confronted by an odd, older woman telling her not to move in, she almost agrees. It’s clear this woman has some kind of connection to the area…and a connection to Kayla herself. Kayla’s elderly new neighbor, Ellie Hockley, is more welcoming, but it’s clear she, too, has secrets that stretch back almost fifty years. Is Ellie on a quest to right the wrongs of the past? And does the house at the end of the street hold the key?

This book….almost broke me. When I finished reading it, I felt like I’d been stabbed in the heart. It’s told in multiple timelines:  the present with Kayla and fifty years ago, with Ellie. I enjoyed both, but Ellie’s story was by far my favorite.

Reading about Ellie’s struggles during the civil rights movement and the things she experienced was hard but compelling. I loved how it was all tied in to what Kayla was facing at her new house, and I was unprepared for the real story that came out at last. I highly recommend this read! It’s a mystery/thriller wrapped with historical fiction, and I was unable to put it down.

Diane Chamberlain is a bestselling author. The Last House on the Street is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  The Last Dance of the Debutante, by Julia Kelly

Image belongs to Gallery Books.

Title:   The Last Dance of the Debutante
Author:   Julia Kelly
Genre:   Historical fiction
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

When it’s announced that 1958 will be the last year debutantes are to be presented at court, thousands of eager mothers and hopeful daughters flood the palace with letters seeking the year’s most coveted invitation: a chance for their daughters to curtsey to the young Queen Elizabeth and officially come out into society.

 In an effort to appease her traditional mother, aspiring university student Lily Nichols agrees to become a debutante and do the Season, a glittering and grueling string of countless balls and cocktail parties. In doing so, she befriends two very different women: the cool and aloof Leana Hartford whose apparent perfection hides a darker side and the ambitious Katherine Norman who dreams of a career once she helps her parents find their place among the elite.

 But the glorious effervescence of the Season evaporates once Lily learns a devastating secret that threatens to destroy her entire family. Faced with a dark past, she’s forced to ask herself what really matters: her family legacy or her own happiness.

This was such a good read! I loved reading about the debutantes, but all the pageantry sounded awful, frankly. Lily was a wonderful character. I enjoyed seeing how she went from a student to a society girl before realizing who she truly wanted to be. The glamor of being a deb didn’t enthrall her for long, and she learned to stand on her own feet and make her own decisions—and friends—as she learned the truth about her past.

Julia Kelly lives in London. The Last Dance of the Debutante is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Gallery Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  Small Things Like These, by Claire Keegan

Image belongs to Grove Atlantic.

Title:   Small Things Like These
Author:   Claire Keegan
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

It is 1985 in a small Irish town. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bill Furlong, a coal merchant and family man faces into his busiest season. Early one morning, while delivering an order to the local convent, Bill makes a discovery which forces him to confront both his past and the complicit silences of a town controlled by the church.

This was a very short read–I think I finished it in about an hour. Stellar, evocative writing, but I found it very bleak and quite slow. Probably just not a good fit for me, despite how vivid and detailed it was.

Claire Keegan is an award-winning author. Small Things Like These is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Grove Atlantic in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  City of Time and Magic, by Paula Brackston

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  City of Time and Magic
Author:   Paula Brackston
Genre:   Historical fiction
Rating:  5 out of 5

City of Time and Magic sees Xanthe face her greatest challenges yet. She must choose from three treasures that sing to her; a beautiful writing slope, a mourning brooch of heartbreaking detail, and a gorgeous gem-set hat pin. All call her, but the wrong one could take her on a mission other than that which she must address first, and the stakes could not be higher. While her earlier mission to Regency England had been a success, the journey home resulted in Liam being taken from her, spirited away to another time and place. Xanthe must follow the treasure that will take her to him if he is not to be lost forever.

 Xanthe is certain that Mistress Flyte has Liam and determined to find them both. But when she discovers Lydia Flyte has been tracking the actions of the Visionary Society, a group of ruthless and unscrupulous Spinners who have been selling their talents to a club of wealthy clients, Xanthe realizes her work as a Spinner must come before her personal wishes. The Visionary Society is highly dangerous and directly opposed to the creed of the Spinners. Their actions could have disastrous consequences as they alter the authentic order of things and change the future. Xanthe knows she must take on the Society. It will require the skills of all her friends, old and new, to attempt such a thing, and not all of them will survive the confrontation that follows.

I love this series! This is a time travel novel that doesn’t gloss over the likely challenges of everyday life in the past (At least, they’d definitely be challenges for someone from the present.). I wouldn’t even be able to dress myself!

I thoroughly enjoy the writing and worldbuilding, but the characters are my favorite part of this series. Xanthe herself is flawed yet determined, and the supporting characters are just as likable. The conflicts, challenges, and choices she faces had me completely enthralled.

Paula Brackston lives in Wales. City of Time and Magic is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)