Monday, May 30, 2016

Review: Promised to the Crown by Aimie K. Runyan

Promised to the Crown (Daughters of New France, Book #1)
by Aimie K. Runyan
Release Date: April 26th 2016
2016 Kensington
Ebook Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-1496701121
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

4 / 5 Stars

They are known as the filles du roi, or “King’s Daughters”—young women who leave prosperous France for an uncertain future across the Atlantic. Their duty is to marry and bring forth a new generation of loyal citizens. Each prospective bride has her reason for leaving—poverty, family rejection, a broken engagement. Despite their different backgrounds, Rose, Nicole, and Elisabeth all believe that marriage to a stranger is their best, perhaps only, chance of happiness.

Once in Quebec, Elisabeth quickly accepts baker Gilbert Beaumont, who wants a business partner as well as a wife. Nicole, a farmer’s daughter from Rouen, marries a charming officer who promises comfort and security. Scarred by her traumatic past, Rose decides to take holy vows rather than marry. Yet no matter how carefully she chooses, each will be tested by hardship and heartbreaking loss—and sustained by the strength found in their uncommon friendship, and the precarious freedom offered by their new home.

My Thoughts
Promised to the Crown is the first book in a new trilogy about the founding of New France, and in particular, the Filles du Roi, the women destined to leave France, marry, and produce offspring to strengthen the colony.   As there are few books that focus on these women, I am always intrigued when a new novel comes out.  And while I found myself easily engaged in the characters' story lines, I will admit that I felt myself to be reading a contemporary fiction novel about friendship and love at times, rather than about the founding of New France.  

The Filles du Roi were women between the ages of 15 and 30, often from the commoner families, and were granted either goods or money as dowry. The women were not forced to come over to New France, but often chose to do so because they could not make a favourable match in France, or were seeking better conditions for themselves.  This book shares the alternating stories of Rose, Elisabeth, and Nicole and the development of their friendship after meeting as the cross the Atlantic.  I enjoyed the alternating story lines very much, but at the same time, never truly felt like I got to know any one of them very well, as their stories tended to border on lightness - any time any one of the stories got anywhere dark and became really interesting, the author would jump to another character, or jump ahead in time, which made me feel disassociated with the character's feelings and emotions.  I really felt like I was reading more contemporary literature at times, rather than historical fiction with its pain and ugliness as well as the joy.  Being French Canadian, and knowing the history of New France very well, there was a lot that was quite painful in the development of this colony, and I would have liked to have seen more of that in this novel.  I get that losing children, and losing a husband is painful, but there were definitely other things that went into developing a colony such as New France; I just felt like a lot of the hardships were glossed over and made to look easy and inviting, which it definitely wasn't.  Nicole's first marriage, and her new husband's house and the conditions within, were much more realistic to how things actually were in New France, and I found that to be quite interesting, not all of the dances and the balls.

The colonization of New France was of high importance to the Crown and although it's hard to believe given the time period, women actually played a huge role in the development of New France, something which I think is downplayed a bit in this book.  I know even marriages with the native people were encouraged because of the fur trade, although none of that is mentioned in this book.  While it was quite interesting to see how the women's marriages developed, I'm not really sure if the women's roles in society, except for Nicole being at her husband's side at various social functions to further her husband's ambitions, was really shown to its full extent in this novel.  I actually think Elisabeth's role as equal partner in the bakery was the most accurate role in this novel as women were encouraged to take active roles in their husbands' lives.  What was quite accurate was the push to have many children; cash incentives were also an effective way of ensuring women had many children, but I don't remember this being mentioned in the novel at all.  

Promised to the Crown was an interesting, engaging read about the development of New France, and the arrival of the Filles du Roi. While fascinating, I did find it to be on the light side and was somewhat disappointed by that at times; yes, there were hardships for the women in their various marriages, but it was normal life hardships they went through, and I wanted to read about the colony hardships, like the harsh winters, the dealings with the natives, the fur trade, and so on.  I didn't necessarily feel like I was reading about New France at times.  I am really hoping the next novel will delve more deeply into the relationships with the natives as well as some of the major issues that existed during this time period; it would add depth and insight to a time period that I think needs to be explored in more detail.  Would I recommend this novel?  For anyone wishing to learn more about the development of early Canada as well as reading about some strong female characters, absolutely.  I am looking forward to seeing what is coming next.   

  Promised to the Crown
Monday, May 9, 2016

Review: No Shred of Evidence by Charles Todd

No Shred of Evidence (Inspector Ian Rutledge, Book #18)
by Charles Todd
Release Date: February 16th 2016
2016 William Morrow
Kindle ARC Edition; 357 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062386182
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

On the north coast of Cornwall, an apparent act of mercy is repaid by an arrest for murder. Four young women have been accused of the crime. A shocked father calls in a favor at the Home Office. Scotland Yard is asked to review the case.

However, Inspector Ian Rutledge is not the first Inspector to reach the village. Following in the shoes of a dead man, he is told the case is all but closed. Even as it takes an unexpected personal turn, Rutledge will require all his skill to deal with the incensed families of the accused, the grieving parents of the victim, and local police eager to see these four women sent to the infamous Bodmin Gaol. Then why hasn’t the killing stopped?

With no shred of evidence to clear the accused, Rutledge must plunge deep into the darkest secrets of a wild, beautiful and dangerous place if he is to find a killer who may-or may not-hold the key to their fate.

My Thoughts
No Shred of Evidence is the eighteenth entry into what is one of my favourite mystery series, starring Inspector Ian Rutledge, a WWI veteran and PTSD (or shell-shock) survivor.  Rutledge's continuing fight to deal with his ghosts from the Battle of the Somme, and the resulting shell shock, is definitely one of the highlights of the series, but I was a bit disappointed to see little of Hamish in this story.  And while I loved the writing style and the character descriptions and development, I do have to admit that the mystery was a bit all over the place in this one, as if the authors couldn't quite figure out which angle the mystery should take. (For those of you unfamiliar with this series, I do use authors on purpose as Charles Todd actually is a pen name for the mother/son writing team of Caroline Todd and Charles Todd.)

First of all, I adore Inspector Rutledge and have really enjoyed how his story has progressed through the books.  In this one, there was a lot of introspection, especially about his past loves, which gives me hope that Rutledge will eventually find the one for him, and it's been a long time coming, almost too long.  He really didn't seem as anxious and troubled in this one which is a bit step forward for someone suffering from shell shock, but I definitely missed Hamish on many an occasion.  The whole idea of ending everything wasn't as prevalent either, expect in a brief moment when he thought about jumping into the river, which made you feel like it was an impulse moment rather than a serious constant thought. For maybe the first time in so many books, I really felt like there was hope for Rutledge, both in his personal life and in his psychological issues.

The cast of characters surrounding Rutledge are always interesting and I look forward to every town, village, and city in which he goes to investigate.  The premise of the story seemed a bit awkward, and I didn't really buy into all that much, but I was willing to go along with it to see where it went.  Four women rowing along the river try to help a man who is about to drown, then later accused of his murder?  Naturally, when Rutledge goes in to investigate, all he meets is resistance from everyone around him; young women who are told not to give any details, wealthy fathers who feel they are above the law, villagers who have secrets, more dead bodies, and so on. The case becomes rather personal however, when Rutledge discovers he knows one of the young women accused of murder and little evidence exists that could exonerate them.  

The plot was a bit murky right from the beginning, and to me, felt like the authors were rather unclear in which direction they wanted to take the mystery.  For the first time in this series, I found the execution to be a bit inept, with too many unimportant / insignificant details.  The actual writing style was good, as always, but I found myself constantly wondering, How was that important? or going Really?  Not a good thing in a mystery.  The pace and the flow were fine, but there were parts that I definitely enjoyed more than others.  

No Shred of Evidence is one of those entries that I think happens in every series.  While the book wasn't boring by any means, I found the mystery to be rather mundane and meandering.  I have really appreciated the previous entries in this series so I was a bit disappointed in this one.  Am I ready to give up on this one though?  No way.  Hopefully the next one will up to its usual standards. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Review: 300 Days of Sun by Deborah Lawrenson

300 Days of Sun
by Deborah Lawrenson
Release Date: April 12th 2016
2016 Harper Paperbacks
ARC Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062390165
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from TLC Book Tours

4 / 5 Stars

Traveling to Faro, Portugal, journalist Joanna Millard hopes to escape an unsatisfying relationship and a stalled career. Faro is an enchanting town, and the seaside views are enhanced by the company of Nathan Emberlin, a charismatic younger man. But behind the crumbling facades of Moorish buildings, Joanna soon realizes, Faro has a seedy underbelly, its economy compromised by corruption and wartime spoils. And Nathan has an ulterior motive for seeking her company: he is determined to discover the truth involving a child’s kidnapping that may have taken place on this dramatic coastline over two decades ago.

Joanna’s subsequent search leads her to Ian Rylands, an English expat who cryptically insists she will find answers in The Alliance, a novel written by American Esta Hartford. The book recounts an American couple’s experience in Portugal during World War II, and their entanglements both personal and professional with their German enemies. Only Rylands insists the book isn’t fiction, and as Joanna reads deeper into The Alliance, she begins to suspect that Esta Hartford’s story and Nathan Emberlin’s may indeed converge in Faro—where the past not only casts a long shadow but still exerts a very present danger.

My Thoughts
300 Days of Sun is a tale of two stories, told in alternating parts. The story begins in contemporary Portugal where the main character is sort of escaping from her life by taking language courses in Faro and avoiding a boyfriend back home. The alternating story line is built into the story and is part of the mystery that surrounds Nathan, a student in her class. A reporter, Joanna stumbles across a mystery that involves Nathan as well as some missing children that may actually span decades.

As a history teacher and a fan of all things historical, the alternating story lines has never bothered me; in fact, I actually enjoy them and go out of my way to find books that contain them.  While I really enjoyed Joanna's story, I actually preferred Esta's as I find everything about WWII fascinating and love reading about it.  The events in Portugal, one of the few neutral countries during this time period, definitely had a rich history and many of its stories are yet to be told.  I know, for example, that Ian Fleming (creator of James Bond) spent some time there, and the Spanish royal family were exiled in Estoril. I think my biggest disappointment in this novel is that these sections, and there were only three of them, were too short.  I also really liked learning about the 1941 windstorm that struck Portugal as it was something I had never heard about so I found it quite interesting.  Apparently, in monetary terms today, the damage would have been around five billion dollars.

Joanna's story was quite interesting in the beginning and her search for Nathan's family is something I always enjoy.  Searching for newspaper articles, asking questions, exploring areas that may contain clues, talking to people about the past, all up my alley.  It's certainly ground that has been covered before, and will probably be covered again, but that's okay.  Unfortunately, where I lost interest was in the mysteriousness of Ian Rylands as he was just too cryptic and 'mysterious' for me and for the story. I think the author was trying to add some secrecy, and perhaps some concept of deadliness to the story, and I just felt it didn't quite work.  Don't get me wrong, I love crime novels and read them voraciously, but it was jarring to the story and to the setting.

300 Days of Sun is one of those books that started out quite strong for me, but kind of lost me towards the end.  I gave it the rating I did because I really enjoyed the author's style of writing as it made me feel like I was right there, and there were some elements that were quite engrossing.  I actually liked the historical aspect better than the modern tale, but I also felt like I connected better to Esta than I did to Joanna.  I was a bit disappointed with the ending, not because of what happened with Nathan and his family as it was sort of what I was expecting, but more about Joanna as I didn't feel like she developed at all throughout the novel.  Besides, I've always thought running away was a bit childish and she didn't seem like she wanted to face her problems.  Personally, if you are looking for a light-hearted mystery/romance, and a nice romp through sunny Portugal, then I would recommend this one for you.  It definitely had the added affect of adding Portugal higher up my traveling bucket list, and the cover makes me want to go snorkeling right now.