Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Book Blast & Giveaway: As Death Draws Near by Anna Lee Huber

02_As Death Draws NearAs Death Draws Near (Lady Darby Mystery #5) by Anna Lee Huber

 

Publication Date: July 5, 2016
Berkley Harcover & eBook; 336 Pages
Series: Lady Darby Mysteries
Genre: Historical Mystery      

The latest mystery from the national bestselling author of A Study in Death tangles Lady Kiera Darby and Sebastian Gage in a dangerous web of religious and political intrigue.

 July 1831. In the midst of their idyllic honeymoon in England’s Lake District, Kiera and Gage’s seclusion is soon interrupted by a missive from her new father-in-law. A deadly incident involving a distant relative of the Duke of Wellington has taken place at an abbey south of Dublin, Ireland, and he insists that Kiera and Gage look into the matter.

Intent on discovering what kind of monster could murder a woman of the cloth, the couple travel to Rathfarnham Abbey school. Soon a second nun is slain in broad daylight near a classroom full of young girls. With the sinful killer growing bolder, the mother superior would like to send the students home, but the growing civil unrest in Ireland would make the journey treacherous.

Before long, Kiera starts to suspect that some of the girls may be hiding a sinister secret. With the killer poised to strike yet again, Kiera and Gage must make haste and unmask the fiend, before their matrimonial bliss comes to an untimely end...

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | iBooks | IndieBound

Praise for the Lady Darby Mysteries

“Riveting…Huber deftly weaves together an original premise, an enigmatic heroine, and a compelling Highland setting for a book you won’t want to put down.”—Deanna Raybourn, New York Times bestselling author “[A] history mystery in fine Victorian style!”—Julia Spencer-Fleming, New York Times bestselling author “[A] fascinating heroine…A thoroughly enjoyable read!”—Victoria Thompson, national bestselling author “[A] clever heroine with a shocking past and a talent for detection.”—Carol K. Carr, national bestselling author

03_Anna Lee HuberAbout the Author

Anna Lee Huber is the Award-Winning and National Bestselling Author of the Lady Darby Mystery Series. She was born and raised in a small town in Ohio, and graduated summa cum laude from Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN with a degree in music and a minor in psychology. She currently resides in Indiana, and when not working on her next book she enjoys reading, singing, traveling and spending time with her family.

For more information please visit www.annaleehuber.com. Connect with Anna Lee Huber on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Tuesday, July 5

100 Pages a Day
Passages to the Past
Just One More Chapter

Wednesday, July 6
Layered Pages
Buried Under Books
CelticLady's Reviews

Thursday, July 7
The Lit Bitch
The Book Junkie Reads
A Dream within a Dream
To Read, Or Not to Read

Friday, July 8
History Undressed
Diana's Book Reviews

Saturday, July 9
A Chick Who Reads
Reading Is My SuperPower

Sunday, July 10
Book Drunkard

Monday, July 11
It's a Mad Mad World
Oh, for the Hook of a Book!

Tuesday, July 12
The Reading Queen
Curling up by the Fire

Wednesday, July 13
Brooke Blogs
Queen of All She Reads
History From a Woman's Perspective  

Thursday, July 14
Book Nerd
A Literary Vacation

Friday, July 15
A Holland Reads
Beth's Book Nook Blog

Giveaway

To win a paperback copy of As Death Draws Near by Anna Lee Huber, please enter the giveaway via the GLEAM form below. Two copies are up for grabs!

Rules
– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on July 15th.
-  You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to US & Canada residents only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

As Death Draws Near Book Blast


 
Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Review: The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson

The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder
by William Anderson (Editor)
Release Date: March 8th 2016
2016 Harper
Ebook ARC Edition; 395 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062419682
ASIN: B00ZP5WMTW
Genre: Nonfiction / Historical / Memoir
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
This is a fresh look at the adult life of the author in her own words. Gathered from museums and archives and personal collections, the letters span over sixty years of Wilder’s life, from 1894–1956 and shed new light on Wilder’s day-to-day life. Here we see her as a businesswoman and author—including her beloved Little House books, her legendary editor, Ursula Nordstrom, and her readers—as a wife, and as a friend. In her letters, Wilder shares her philosophies, political opinions, and reminiscences of life as a frontier child. Also included are letters to her daughter, writer Rose Wilder Lane, who filled a silent role as editor and collaborator while the famous Little House books were being written.

Wilder biographer William Anderson collected and researched references throughout these letters and the result is an invaluable historical collection, tracing Wilder’s life through the final days of covered wagon travel, her life as a farm woman, a country journalist, Depression-era author, and years of fame as the writer of the Little House books. This collection is a sequel to her beloved books, and a snapshot into twentieth-century living.


My Thoughts
The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder was an interesting and absorbing collection of her personal letters to fans, family, friends, colleagues, and so on.  I will admit to being fascinated by the details they gave us about her later life, and couldn't get enough information about family and friends mentioned from the Little House books.  Having grown up on these books, to the point where they were so dog-eared I had to buy another set for my own children, I have always been fascinated by Laura's life.  I even got a chance to visit some of Carrie's old haunts while visiting Keystone several years ago, and often regret not stopping in De Smet while driving through South Dakota to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes Tour.  

What was nice about reading this collection was reconciling Laura as a child with Laura as a mother and author. You definitely got a much better understanding of the relationship between Laura and Rose as well as what Laura thought about a myriad of things, including simply the weather.  It was also nice, as an adult, to learn more about Laura's family and friends, and I definitely looked for those names I recognized from the novels, hoping for more information.  Unfortunately, as in a lot of families, including my own, so many things get thrown out over the years, including correspondence, and I am frankly amazed that so much was left from Laura's papers.  Although it was a shame that so much was destroyed, it is a reality; I didn't really take much interest in my own grandparents' letters and things although now I wish I had, especially as my grandmother tended to keep a lot of things.  In her letters, Laura seemed to live quite frugally and often commented on the materialism of young people, which I found quite interesting, and she found disturbing, often echoing the same thoughts going around today.

I thought Anderson did quite a good job putting together these letters and I imagine it wasn't very easy to do.  For the average person with little knowledge of Laura Ingalls, I don't think the collection will be very interesting, and some of the letters to fans were a bit repetitive, but to someone like me who adored the Little House books, I loved reading this collection.  It definitely gave you a new understanding of the adult Laura, some of her political and religious viewpoints, as well as what she thought of friends and neighbours. What I really liked was the writing process between Laura and Rose as she edited her books; I also liked learning about how the drawings were developed for the books as well, quite interesting. My only disappointment with the letters had to do with how little new information we learn about Almanzo, but it is possible many of those letters were lost over the years.  You do however, get a real appreciation for how attached she was to Manly and how much she adored him. 

Verdict
The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder gives us a more in-depth understanding to Laura as an adult through letters written by her own hand.  I liked how Anderson laid out the book and gave little snippets of information in order to help understand the letters.  For anyone with an interest in the adult life of Laura Ingalls, I highly recommend this book; she was just as charming as the little girl we grew up with in her famous books.
Thursday, June 30, 2016

Review: Girls' Weekend by Cara Sue Achterberg

Girls' Weekend
by Cara Sue Achterberg
Release Date: May 3rd 2016
2016 Story Plant
Paperback; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-1611882285
ASIN: B01BI5LT8W
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from Pump Up Your Book

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
Dani, Meg, and Charlotte have bonded over babies, barbeques, and backyards, but when they escape for a girls weekend away, they can t bring themselves to return to lives that don t seem to fit anymore.Harried Dani can t explain why she feels so discontented until she meets a young gallery owner who inspires her to rediscover the art that once made her happy.

Dependable Meg faces up to a grief that threatens to swallow her whole and confronts a marriage built on expectations.

Flamboyant Charlotte, frustrated with her stagnated life and marriage, pursues a playboy Irish singer and beachside business opportunities.

All three of these women thought they would be different. None of them thought they d be facing down forty and still wondering when life starts. What they do when they realize where they re headed is both inspiring and wildly entertaining.


My Thoughts
Girls' Weekend is one of those books with which you settle down with a glass of wine on a beach somewhere and enjoy the read.  While I don't think it went into as much depth as it really could have, it did make you think about your own life and how much you do for others and whether you really do have time for yourself.  I think it's great that these women were able to take the time to relax and think about what they want from life, but personally, I don't know too many women who can take weeks to themselves in order to sort themselves out and decide what to do.  

It all begins when Dani, Charlotte, and Meg decide to go away for a weekend.  Tired with their lives, wishing for something more, once the weekend is over they don't want to return to their husbands and their daily chores, so they decide to stay. To be honest, I did have a problem with the decision as, again, I am not sure how someone could leave for weeks without explaining to their spouse what is going on. I'm sure most women have fantasized about leaving for a month of two, a secluded beach with a casket of wine and a suitcase full of books being absolute heaven.  It's definitely very easy to get caught up in one's life as you cart the children all over the place, help them with their homework, make their lunches, take them shopping to get that last-minute art project piece that was due yesterday, to sew the rip in the shirt your daughter needed last week, and so on.  But re-connecting with your spouse takes time and energy and this I thought was lacking in this book.  The story was about the women coming to terms with themselves, and their growth, but the disconnect in their lives would have involved their spouses too, and I don't think there was any resolution and very little development to this at all. It was more about the men learning to live without their spouses, hoping they will notice everything the women do in their lives, and hoping something will change when they get back. But taking off for weeks doesn't really solve the problem, in my estimation, and old habits don't die out that easily. I definitely wasn't looking for a perfect ending, would have been kind of disappointed if there was, but would have liked a bit more resolution for these ladies instead of just go back to your lives and hope everyone likes the new you that was discovered in a couple of weeks.  If I sound sarcastic, it's because I am. 

I really enjoyed Meg and Dani as characters and liked their story lines, but I was not a bit fan of Charlotte's.  There was something about her that rubbed me the wrong way, and I'm sorry to say, but I was on her husband's Brett side the whole time things went sour.  Charlotte is very high-maintenance and her attitude drove me nuts.  I felt much more sympathetic towards Dani and Meg as I found them more likeable, and looked forward to when the POVs changed back to them, away from Charlotte.  I did enjoy all of their conversations, even if I disagreed with their choices, as I pictured my own girls' evening full of fun, laughter, wine, and conversation.  The author definitely understands the strength of women's bonds and friendships, as well as how fragile and emotional they can be.  

Verdict
Girls' Weekend was a fun, somewhat emotional, book about friendship and re-discovering your sense of self.  I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in reading about friendship, love, and loss, and the characters seem very realistic, even if the premise isn't.  I think what it does do for women is it makes them realize that changes can be made at anytime if you really wish them to be made, it just has to start somewhere, and I'm pretty sure you don't have to rent an expensive cottage to be able to do so, as much fun as that would be.  
Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Review: Dead is Dead by John Lansing

Dead is Dead (Jack Bertolino, Book #3)
by John Lansing
Release Date: May 30th 2016
2016 Gallery Books/Karen Hunter Publishing
Ebook Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-1501143564
ASIN: B0191YI6GA
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from Partners in Crime Tours

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
Retired Inspector Jack Bertolino gets his first taste of the erratic nature of Hollywood when A-list producer, George Litton, options one of Jack’s recent cases for a film.

Jack is engaged as the film’s technical advisor, which stars It Girl Susan Blake. But more importantly, he’s on hand to keep a protective eye on Susan, who’s being harassed by a disturbing cyber-stalker.

But that’s not all that starts to turn Jack’s world upside-down. When a five-year-old girl is shot dead in her family’s living room, just blocks from where the movie is being filmed, Jack realizes there are threads connecting the movie, the murder, a brutal gang of brothers, and a terrifying body count.

Will Jack be able to find justice for the young girl and keep Susan safe? Or will this be his last and fatal trip to Hollywood?


My Thoughts
Dead is Dead is the third book in the Jack Bertolino series and was just as interesting as the first two books.  This book is pretty much action from start to finish, yet the story is pretty darn good as well. 

The ironic part of this book is that Jack is a bodyguard and technical advisor on a film that is based on one of his old cases, and stars the new 'it' girl Susan. She's being harassed by an ex-stalked who has followed her from New York to Hollywood to continue his harassment.  I wasn't sure what to think about Susan from the get-go, and even as I learned her story, I'm still not sure what to think. I am glad however, the author did not go into too many details regarding her past, especially descriptive details, as it was pretty horrible, and there are some things I would rather not picture nor read about anywhere.  While learning her story made me more sympathetic towards her, I definitely did not want her in Jack's life as I have formed a kind of attachment to the idea of Jack and Leslie still getting together one day.  

We know who the killer is right from the beginning, and while that usually bothers me, this wasn't a murder / mystery novel, but a suspense novel, so the dual story lines worked rather well.  What did confuse me was Toby's motivation for the murders; yes, we got the rather mundane and predictable one about the girlfriend and the love triangle, but it didn't make sense to me that someone like Toby would risk the lives of his family to a drug cartel simply for revenge killings. I kept waiting for something more, something bigger, but I was to be disappointed.  But then again, sometimes the unexpected happens for a reason, and while the motive might have been simple, the result definitely escalated out of Toby's hand by a ricocheting bullet that killed a five-year-old girl, inflaming the city and setting the cops, and Jack, on his tail.  The result being a series of murders to cover up the initial crime reminding me of a kid who tells a little lie, only to have to keep lying to cover up the initial lie, until it all blows up in one's face.  The only problem in this scenario is the person doing the killing would get the death penalty if caught.  For whatever reason, I wasn't really sympathetic to Toby's plight as there was something cold and unlikable about him; I did like Terrence and Sean better but you also didn't get to read their POVs as often so that is probably why they seemed more likable. They seemed to know when to draw the line a bit better.

Verdict
Dead is Dead is a fast-paced, riveting story that draws the reader in very quickly and doesn't really let go until the last page.  Even though you know the killer's identity, the story still twists and turns as you follow Jack's footsteps behind the killer's as he tries to stop him before he hurts anyone else.  I love the characters in these books, and the humour definitely helps relieve the tension as it slowly builds to its end.  Sometimes though, the focus is too much on the action and not enough on character development; I think there is a fine balance and it would be too easy to get carried away with crazier and crazier action to the point where character development could suffer.  I definitely recommend this novel to anyone interested in fast-paced and exciting stories.  a Rafflecopter giveaway
Monday, June 27, 2016

Review: The Crown's Game by Evelyn Skye

The Crown's Game (The Crown's Game, Book #1)
by Evelyn Skye
Release Date: May 17th 2016
2016 Balzer & Bray
Ebook Edition; 399 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062422583
ASIN: B014DUR8KW
Genre: Fiction / YA / Fantasy / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Summary
Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love... or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear... the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.


My Thoughts
The Crown's Game is a fantasy world of tsarist Russia, and while the premise was somewhat interesting, I actually found that the novel dragged quite a bit.  I enjoyed the characters, enjoyed the interplay between the characters, but found the actual plot to be lacking in tension and excitement.  Naturally, it had the usual elements often found in young adult novels: the love triangle, the 'I can't live without you' element, and the insta-attraction / love, something that just gets on my nerves.  From the moment the two main characters meet is actually when I began to lose interest in the story.

First of all, I liked Vika and Nikolai before they met.  I liked how they were ambitious and worked hard to hone their craft; I also enjoyed learning about their backgrounds and how they were able to do what they did.  Learning about the Crown's Game should not have really tempered their ambitions too much, but I guess there needed to be a reason why these two would not want to fight to the end, even if that reason was a bit lame. I have never been a fan of insta-attraction, and to just fight back feebly because you think the other person may or may not want to kill you seems pretty silly to me.  Personally, if I knew there was a fight with only one victor, ordered by the Crown, I would probably do everything in my power to win, no matter what.  Because of this lack of effort in trying to win, the novel got bogged down in details that were uninteresting and just dragged the story down, in my opinion.  I would have liked to have seen some tension between the two of them and some serious magical fighting.  There was one interesting scene where Vika attempted to destroy everything Nikolai owned and I finally thought we were getting to something good, then suddenly, all the fight went out of Vika, and that was that.  As a reader, I was left feeling pretty disappointed.  

Then suddenly we have the love triangle. Don't get me wrong, I liked Pasha, I thought he was interesting, but quite different for an heir to a throne. I just couldn't picture him as a possible love interest for Vika, and I think it would have been much more interesting if he had just remained her friend as it would have been much more believable.  As it stood in the novel, what Pasha felt for Vika felt much more like a crush and the resulting behaviour was a bit childish, but had deadly consequences for the two combatants.  And we are supposed to feel sorry for Pasha because he let his emotions run away from him and couldn't see what the consequences would be? Unfortunately, the actual Game felt overshadowed by this triangle and the resulting contest didn't feel like a contest to the death, but more like two Enchanters showing off their skills.  

Verdict
The Crown's Game is a very light fantasy that doesn't quite live up to its premise.  There is a definite lack of tension between the two combatants which made it seem more like they were showing off their skills rather than fighting to the death in a deadly contest.  What an Enchanter actually does, other than advise the tsar, is rather murky and lightly fluffed over, and I'm still not quite sure why there needs to be only one when the two of them were doing quite nicely all this time.  While I thought the writing was fine, the characters themselves were rather one-dimensional and I didn't really empathize with any of them.  It says a lot when I didn't really care one way or another who won the Game.  Would I recommend this book?  I'm not sure as I didn't hate it, but there were definitely some elements that had me rolling my eyes.  But I definitely get the appeal, even if it's not for me. 
Thursday, June 23, 2016

Review: The Novice by Taran Matharu

The Novice (Summoner, Book #1)
by Taran Matharu
Release Date: May 5th 2015
2015 Feiwel and Friends
Kindle Edition; 398 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250067128
ASIN: B00OFKKDLW
Genre: Fiction / YA / Fantasy

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
When blacksmith apprentice Fletcher discovers that he has the ability to summon demons from another world, he travels to Adept Military Academy. There the gifted are trained in the art of summoning. Fletcher is put through grueling training as a battlemage to fight in the Hominum Empire’s war against orcs. He must tread carefully while training alongside children of powerful nobles. The power hungry, those seeking alliances, and the fear of betrayal surround him. Fletcher finds himself caught in the middle of powerful forces, with only his demon Ignatius for help.

My Thoughts
The Novice is the first book in the Summoner Trilogy and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  While it started off a bit slowly, there was something about Fletcher and his story that really appealed to me, so I didn't mind at all.  Furthermore, the plot was rather simple and straightforward, which I liked, as I never got the feeling the author was trying to fit something in just because he could.  There was a rather nice flow between each series of actions as well as with character interactions.

First of all, Fletcher is one of those characters that we've all seen before in fantasy novels; he's an orphan, left at the door by his unknown-to-him mother who will probably be someone highborn, raised by a kind man, fighting against the bullies (usually those born in the nobility), discovers he's a mage, wrongly accused of a crime, runs away, joins a magic academy, and fights other political machinations that surround him.  Sound like a familiar theme?  Oh, yeah.  The bullying and the racism themes were big themes in this novel, kind of reflecting what is happening in the world around us, so I found it interesting to compare reality versus fantasy.  I also really liked how the story was written; Fletcher was an unassuming hero, kind, generous, but quite loyal, very interested in the world around him, which made it interesting for the reader for as the story line unfolded you learned some of the political and societal happenings due to Fletcher's interest.   I also tend to have a thing for academy books and enjoy them a lot - probably stemming back to my Magician days with Pug and company, although it probably goes even earlier than that.  My favourite character so far is Ignatius, the demon that Fletcher accidentally summoned, and I have wondered exactly how he fits into the story and what kinds of powers he actually has. 

The plot in this one was quite simple, and I enjoyed it just for that reason.  However, there was still a lot of things going on despite this simplicity and I think it could be dismissed rather easily as too simple.  I liked a lot of the training at the academy, but even more, I liked the interaction between the people as they coped with the pressure of training for a competition for which they were already disadvantaged, one against the noble children who have been training for years with their parents.  There was enough action to keep it interesting, even if the beginning was a bit slow, and I definitely have become a huge fan of the dwarves, and would like to learn more about them and their history.  I am also quite curious about Fletcher's dreams and what they mean as I am beginning to sense some evil machinations behind the Orc war.  It has just made me curious as to what is really going on.

Verdict
The Novice turned out to be a great book, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, better than I expected actually.  I tend to be really picky when it comes to fantasy, but this was an entertaining, if not very in-depth, novel that I really needed at this time - something very different from Martin, Goodkind, or Weeks. It's a book meant to be lighthearted, without all that extra stuff that bogs down a book and makes it dreary, and the characters are easygoing and pretty likable.  I truly wasn't expecting the cliffhanger at the hand, although I was expecting it to come back to him at some point in the future, just not the way it happened.  I'm still not sure how I feel about cliffhanger endings though; if the book is really good, you will want to read the next one despite the cliffhanger which can really frustrate readers.  Anyhow, looking forward to reading The Inquisition, which is sitting on my shelf just waiting to be read.   

 

 
Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Review: The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie

The Rivals of Versailles (The Mistresses of Versailles, Book #2)
by Sally Christie
Release Date: April 5th 2016
2016 Atria Books
Ebook Edition; 448 Pages
ISBN: 978-1501102998
ASIN: B0112OOQX4
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
The year is 1745. Marie-Anne, the youngest of the infamous Nesle sisters and King Louis XV's most beloved mistress, is gone, making room for the next Royal Favorite.

Enter Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, a stunningly beautiful girl from the middle classes. Fifteen years prior, a fortune teller had mapped out young Jeanne's destiny: she would become the lover of a king and the most powerful woman in the land. Eventually connections, luck, and a little scheming pave her way to Versailles and into the King's arms.

All too soon, conniving politicians and hopeful beauties seek to replace the bourgeois interloper with a more suitable mistress. As Jeanne, now the Marquise de Pompadour, takes on her many rivals - including a lustful lady-in-waiting; a precocious fourteen-year-old prostitute, and even a cousin of the notorious Nesle sisters - she helps the king give himself over to a life of luxury and depravity. Around them, war rages, discontent grows, and France inches ever closer to the Revolution.


My Thoughts
The Rivals of Versailles is the second book in The Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy, and I found it to be just as compelling as The Sisters of Versailles, the first book in the series.  In this one, we are treated to the relationship between Jeanne Poisson (Madame de Pompadour) and King Louis XV.  The Marquise's story is especially riveting because she was able to develop her friendship with Louis, and keep his attentions even when their sexual relationship cooled off, becoming one of the most influential women in Europe during this time period.  

After being told by a fortune-teller that she would one day win the love of a king, Jeanne is carefully nurtured and educated with only one end in sight - to win the love of a great man and produce the benefits for the entire family.  Thanks to her mother's connections, Jeanne soon finds herself embroiled in a plot to win over the king; even her husband was a means to an end as only a married woman can go to court.  I actually found the whole planning method to be quite exhausting and it's no wonder many women fainted at court; it's definitely not the clothes they were wearing, but the shear exhaustion of the planning and manipulations that went on in order to get above everyone else.  Even when Jeanne finally did achieve the pinnacle of her ambition, and fell madly in love with the king, before she could be presented at court, due to her humble beginnings, she had to spend hours and hours learning court etiquette, everything from bowing to someone to how to eat properly to how to walk properly.  I did find a lot of the rules mentioned quite fascinating, and although I knew some of them, there were others with which I was unfamiliar so they were fun to learn.  

The Marquise eventually became one of the most cultured woman at Versailles.  In order to survive that many years as a mistress however, one also has to be quite politically savvy and the marquise was brilliant in her moves.  She became a trusted and valued advisor to the king, even helping to negotiate treaties and other deals, to the detriment of the men on the council who did not trust her because she was a woman.  She also became a huge patron of the arts, nurturing all kinds of artists and architects, being responsible for the planning of the Petit Trianon as well as the Place de la Concorde.  Despite all of this, her position was never stable, and I found her machinations and plotting to keep her position through Henry's other flings quite interesting.

This is where the narrative changes a bit and we get a taste of three important rivals in a long line of flings.  Rosalie, a minor countess, captures the king's attention with her youth and her beauty.  Morphise, a young but worldly girl, captures the king as she can match his insatiable sexual appetite; quite cunning, her wisdom and sarcasm interest the king as he doesn't quite know what to think about this girl-woman.  And then there is Marie-Anne, whose resemblance to her namesake captures the king's attention; I really like how the author made this woman seem so silly as it was quite funny.  I seriously doubt she was quite like this in reality, something the author also touches upon in her notes, but it was fun nonetheless.  All three were guided by mentors in the court who you would think would have learned their lesson by now; the Marquise was untouchable which is why none of these girls lasted as mistresses as all three attempted to have Jeanne removed from Versailles.  But how everything worked out was quite interesting and I enjoyed the political machinations quite well.  It especially showed that one couldn't trust anyone in that court.  I seriously don't know how anyone could live like that for years and not suffer serious illnesses from the stress of it all.  

Verdict
The Rivals of Versailles really demonstrated the jealousies and rivalries that occurred in the court of Versailles during this time period. Better yet, there was an underlying theme of discontent and bitterness as the King dealt with people who no longer loved him and tried to kill him, with the nobility slowly grasping the idea that they were quite hated.  Lots of conflict, even if small, occurred in this novel, which definitely set the tone for what is to come.  While not a political novel, it definitely shows the excess waste and wanton disregard for people who were starving and needed attention from their king and courtiers. I did really wish however, that the author had truly shown how tough and strong the Marquess was as well as some of  the other really important things that she did as I felt those were glossed over in favour of her relationship with the king and her neediness for him.  In order to survive in this nest of vipers, she would have had to have been much stronger than that.
Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Review: Out Comes the Evil by Stella Cameron

Out Comes the Evil: A Costwold Murder Mystery (Alex Duggins Mystery, Book #2)
by Stella Cameron
Release Date: December 1st 2015
2015 Severn House Digital
Ebook Edition; Kindle
ISBN: 978-1780290782
ASIN: B016WD3EXI
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.5 / 5 Stars

Summary
Once again Alex Duggins and her veterinarian friend Tony Harrison are thrown into a major murder investigation. An almost fresh body is discovered in a disused well among the ruins of a 14th-century manor house ... the motive for the killing a baffling mystery. The victim was a widow who had lived quietly in the picturesque Cotswolds village of Folly-on-Weir for the past ten years. Who on earth could want her dead, and by such brutal means?

As rumour and speculation engulf the town, another woman is attacked – and Alex discovers that behind a tranquil face lurks a cunning and vengeful mind. Despite warnings from the police to stop interfering, she finds herself in the sights of a ruthless killer who has decided she knows too much ...


My Thoughts
Out Comes the Evil is the second book in the Alex Duggins mystery series, and it was pretty much the same as the first; decent, but predictable.  While the novel tends to be more of a traditional English mystery, which is what I was looking for, but I had trouble empathizing with the main character and I definitely didn't understand some of the things she did.

First of all, I like the traditional English mystery and was hoping this novel would deliver.  With a body discovered in a well among the ruins of an old castle, it had the makings of a good mystery, but I was sort of let down as the story moved along.  I did enjoy the setting however, and could picture the pub that Alex owned quite clearly in my mind as well as Tony's cozy cottage.  All I wanted to do was spent an afternoon sitting around the blazing fires, having a beer, chatting with friends while it was raining outside - the mood and setting were definitely to my taste.  When the author really wanted to, her descriptions of the place just made you want to go there and spend some time amongst these people, but at other times, the writing was stilted and a bit inconsistent.   I also found the characters' motives to be quite unclear at times and it made the story a bit confusing and inconsistent; for example, Alex went to try and get information from a certain person who very quickly turned on her and led to a series of events that frankly, were quite unbelievable.  Suspension of belief in a fantasy can be acceptable, but in a murder mystery, it makes it seem fake and silly.  

I am not a huge fan of Alex as a main character; I find her to be silly and a bit reckless too.  One of the things that has always eaten at me is the expectation of characters in some of these mysteries to be told confidential information from the police about on-going investigations as if they have a right to that information. That turns me right off and Alex is one of those who has no problem inserting herself into investigations without regard for anyone else, and then is affronted when her boyfriend gets mad at her meddling.  She had even gone so far as to withhold information from the police in this one because she was doing her own investigation, continually telling everyone around her that she was not getting involved because of what happened last time - hypocrisy, no?   

Verdict
Out Comes the Evil is one of those books that I was hoping would be a good traditional mystery, but it didn't turn out to be that at all, at least for me.  For the most part, I did like the characters, with the exception of Alex, but found their development to be a bit lacking; I really felt like the author was trying too hard to have a variety of characters which made them seem a bit stilted and stereotypical, like the Major, rather than fitting seamlessly into the story line. The plot itself started off rather strongly, but quite quickly grew rather mundane and I had a hard time finishing it.  At this point, being rather disappointed, I'm not sure if I would read the next book in the series