Hannah’s Moon (John A Heldt)

I received a free copy of Hannah’s Moon in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

Claire and Rob Rasmussen have decided that they want to adopt a child, but between red tape and money, they face a discouraging road. After hearing from Claire’s distant aunt and uncle, Geoffrey and Jeanette Bell, they decide to travel to a place with plenty of adoptable children and little red tape: 1945. Along with Claire’s brother David, they travel to 1940’s Chattanooga where they meet little Hannah and fall in love. But, it’s not a straightforward trip back to 2017 for them; after something unexpected occurs, the family finds themselves much more entangled the  1940’s than they ever expected to be.

This book definitely starts with an emotional punch to the gut. It was heartbreaking, but so powerful. It was definitely one of the most compelling first chapters I have ever read. I had to set my Kindle down for a minute and process. It could not have been written better.

Many of the issues I had with the previous book in the series that I read (Indiana Belle) were not issues here. There was more than one twist that kept me on the edge of my seat. I was surprised at the direction things were going more than once and by the last 100 pages or so I was practically chewing my nails in anticipation. While the characters were sometimes just too perfect, it wasn’t so much that I stopped liking them. They often seemed to nice to be real and a few more flaws would have made them seem more real to me.

The ending is somewhat bittersweet, but certainly sparks interest in the other books in the series if you haven’t read them already. I haven’t, but I didn’t feel like I was missing too much information to make it all make sense. Like Indiana Belle, Hannah’s Moon has plenty to offer for fans of history and is just very enjoyable all around.

The Shadow Land (Elizabeth Kostova)

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

Image via http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/Penguin Random House

When Alexandria Boyd arrives in Sofia, Bulgaria she hopes that some time abroad will help heal the wounds from losing her brother. Shortly after arriving in the city, she helps an elderly couple into a cab and too late realizes that she has one of their bags in her possession. Inside the bag is ornately carved wooded box with the name Stoyan Lazarov engraved on the lid. When she peeks inside, she realizes that this is actually an urn. Along with the cab driver she befriends, Alexandria sets off through Bulgaria to return the urn to the family, an adventure that she soon learns is full of dangerous she couldn’t have imagined. Along the way she will learn about the talented musician who’s life was shattered by unthinkable political oppression.

I’m so happy Elizabeth Kostova chose to return to Eastern Europe for this book, because I really feel like her passion for it shows. The Shadow Land follows the typical format for her books, the modern mixed with history, moving back and forth through time. Somehow, it’s never disorienting. I find her books to be very satisfying, slowly unfolding mysteries, and The Shadow Land was no different for me.

It’s definitely a hefty tome and being way behind on my reading commitments, I was concerned about the time it would take to finish the book. I shouldn’t have worried. I started on a Saturday morning and had devoured the entire book by Sunday night.

It’s sad and beautiful and touching all wrapped together. While it definitely touches on some uncomfortable history (forced labor camps in Bulgaria after WWII), it’s still somehow beautiful. While it doesn’t have that paranormal angle that The Historian has, it still has a dark mysteriousness that I can’t resist.

If you are already a fan of Elizabeth Kostova, then I really don’t need to sell this. You know what kind of quality to expect. If you are not, I cannot recommend enough that you pick up this book and give yourself a thorough introduction. I really don’t think you will be disappointed.

The Blazing Star (Imani Josey)

I received a free copy of The Blazing Star in exchange for an honest review. This definitely did NOT change my opinion of the book.

Sixteen-year-old Portia is used to playing second fiddle to her genius twin sister, Alex. After having a strange reaction when she holds a scarab in her history class, Portia finds herself braver and stronger than she was before. But, the second time she comes into contact with the scarab, what happens is even stranger: she wakes up in Ancient Egypt, along with her twin and a freshman girl.

While trying to find a way back to their own time, they discover that they are not there by chance and their connection to Ancient Egypt runs far deeper than they ever could have imagined.

Let’s be real here: my regular readers can probably figure out what initially drew me to this book. Did you see that cover? It’s gorgeous. Scroll back up and look at it if you didn’t look before. See? Gorgeous. BUT, even more importantly, this book was about Ancient Egypt. I’ve only been obsessed with Egypt since 3rd grade. Of course I was going to read it.

Lucky me: it’s an awesome book. Things start out just a little slow, but they pick up fairly quickly. Although I’ve never had sisters, I felt that Portia and Alex’s relationship seemed pretty authentic. It’s not perfect, but they love each other. In fact, I really liked almost all the characters. The priestesses are all pretty fantastic, very well written and interesting.  I have a particular fondness for sweet Prince Seti.

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=637421
I imagine he’s more of a dreamboat than this more recent picture of the actual Pharaoh Seti I

I made the mistake of reading several other reviews before I started The Blazing Star. There were a few that mentioned that the setting was vague and could have been anywhere ancient. I have to disagree. The whole thing felt pretty Egyptian to me. Could it have been more detailed? Probably, but too much detail would have bogged everything down. As someone who has spent the better part of two decades or more fascinated with the Ancient Egyptians, most things seemed to ring fairly true to me.

You have Egypt and magic, what more can you want?? For a first novel, Imani Josey KILLED it. I pretty much finished the book and immediately ordered myself a signed copy. I cannot wait to read more.

 

Other Books I’ve Been Reading

If you keep track of my little Goodreads shelf over on the sidebar, you may have noticed I’m reading quite a few books that I’m not writing up. There are several reasons for this. Some were just bad. Others were ok, but I didn’t have strong enough feelings about them to write an entire review. Yet others are books I’ll be reviewing at a later date.

I’ve decided to do a quick and dirty summary of some of those, since just because I didn’t rave about them, doesn’t mean you won’t.

Useless Bay (MJ Beaufrand)

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This was actually a fairly enjoyable book. Geared more toward middle grades, it was really well written, but left too many questions hanging for me to really enjoy it thoroughly. It centers around the larger than life Gray quintuplets, the unofficial search and rescue team of Whidbey Island. This one is out October 18.

 

Chasing Embers (James Bennett)

I really want to like urban fantasy, but I nearly always struggle with them. This one isn’t bad, a little wordy at times but a fairly solid read. I have a soft spot for dragons, so that may be part of the appeal for me. I can’t really gush about it, but I will likely read the next book when it comes out.

A Rustle of Silk (Alys Clare)

A decent mystery set against the backdrop of early Stuart England.  Overall, it was an enjoyable mystery, but there were a few moments that I didn’t really think fit and overall the mystery was just a little too easily solved for me. I won’t give away exactly what those parts were, but just be fair warned if you decide to pick this one up.

The Apothecary’s Curse (Barbara Bennett)

This urban fantasy, I actually did enjoy. The story moves between modern and Victorian timelines, but I found that kept me really interested. Victorian doctor Simon Bell and and apothecary Gaelan Erceldoune became immortal and now must stop a modern pharmaceutical from exploiting their secret.

Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer (Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D.)

Talk about books that will make your skin crawl, this was beyond just creepy. Much of the story is told in Dennis Rader’s own words and while it’s interesting, it’s also scary as hell.

Garden District Gothic (Greg Herren)

It could be that I wasn’t super excited about this book because I hadn’t read any of the others in the series (this is the 7th Scotty Bradley book). The worst part for me was that the mystery seemed to be just too easily solved. It had the build up to be a really great mystery and I was really let down. I was a little iffy at the beginning because it really seemed to want to be the gayest thing that ever was gay, but things leveled off so that I wasn’t constantly saying to myself, “OK, I get it, these guys are gay!” It’s gay fiction and it seriously wants you to know it. Regardless, ultimately I found the super easy wrap up to be the deal breaker here.

Choose Your Own Misery: The Holidays (Mike MacDonald, Jilly Gagnon)

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I wanted to love this. It was (supposed) to be pure nostalgia for me, since I grew up with the Choose Your Own Adventure books. This was a humorous take on how much the holidays can suck. It was okay, I suppose. Cute. But, it was clearly written from a purely male perspective and I quickly lost interest.

The Private Lives of the Tudors (Tracy Borman)

I absolutely loved this one. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a passion for all things Tudor and this really gave me a lot of new insight into the everyday lives of the Tudor monarchs. I decided to forgo a full review of this one, just because I don’t know many people that would get as excited about the minutiae of Henry VIII’s private life as I do.

The Red Ripper (Peter Conradi)

Another book about a creepy serial killer, this time it’s Russian killer Andrei Chikatilo. It was an interesting read, but didn’t really expand on anything I hadn’t read previously.

Crossing the Horizon (Laurie Notaro)

I received a copy of Crossing the Horizon free from the publisher (via Netgalley) in exchange for an honest review. This, however, did not change my opinion of the book.

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Image via Simon and Schuster.

It’s 1927. Charles Lindbergh has recently become a media sensation by completing the first transatlantic flight. Now, the race is on to be the first woman to make the crossing. This story takes a look at three very different and fascinating women who are all hoping to take the crown: Elsie Mackay, daughter of an Earl and the first Englishwoman to receive her pilot’s license; Ruth Elder, who uses her winnings from a beauty pageant to take flying lessons; and Mabel Boll, glamorous society widow who hopes the trip will be her claim to fame.

While I’ve always loved books set in the 1920’s, I was a little bit unsure about one focusing on aviation history. I’ve never really found myself all that interested in the early days of flight. Or the history of flight at all. I knew about Charles Lindbergh (a bit) and that Amelia Earhart was the first woman to accomplish the flight, but beyond that I was clueless. This book, however, changed my mind. It was truly wonderful. Crossing the Horizon was clearly well researched and painted a vivid picture of these three women, their world, and the people around them.

I particularly loved the fact that there were pictures included. When reading historical fiction books, I often find myself seeking out pictures on the primary players on my own. While it’s not really a necessity, I found their inclusion to be a nice touch. Obviously this is a fictionalized account based on real events, but the pictures made it all so much more real, taking these from mere characters, to living, breathing people.

Even without the pictures, I think this would have been a really standout book. Knowing that none of these women were going to be the record holder didn’t take anything away for me. I was hooked and could not wait to find out what happened next. With such brilliantly illustrated characters, I was completely sucked in, anxious to see how their stories would turn out. It’s not a short book, but I was so engrossed it did not take long to finish it.

I cannot recommend this book enough.  There is tragedy, humor and a solid dose of girl power. These were all ladies determined to take charge of their own destinies and Laurie Notaro has told their stories beautifully. This is definitely a book I will be rereading. You can pick up your own copy on October 4 or pre-order it now!

My Lady Jane (Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows)

I’ve been nuts about the Tudors for years. My collection of both fiction and nonfiction books about the Tudor clan (especially Henry VIII) has grown pretty substantial over the years. I had come across this book on social media a few times, but really had no idea what it was about. Based solely on the cover image and title, I made the guess that we were dealing with a YA historical fiction about the doomed Lady Jane Grey. And I definitely wanted to read it. However, it had a few surprises waiting for me.

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Well all know I’m a sucker for a good cover. Courtesy HarperCollins.

I was partially right. The book IS about Lady Jane Grey. Turns out, it’s an alternate history. And has three authors. I was immediately skeptical (Three authors? Alternate history? Would this be a total carriage wreck? ), but decided to go ahead and press onward. This may be been partially due to the fact that I forgot I had the book on my library app. With only until 38 hours before it was due back. Challenge accepted.

Worth every minute. This book was so much fun. I also finished it with probably 10 hours to spare. Winner.

“How,” you say, “can a book about a teenager who gets her head chopped off possibly be fun?” Alternate history, people. It’s not exactly a true story. Take what you already know about Lady Jane Grey, add some magic, some modernized dialogue and TONS of pop culture references, and viola! You have My Lady Jane. This one is definitely going to take another reading for me to catch all of the pop culture references that were going on here. The Princess Bride, Monty Python, heck, I even caught a Jaws reference. I’m certain that there are others I missed.

So, the basics: It’s 1553 and sixteen year old King Edward VI is dying. Lord Dudley convinces him to replace his sisters Mary and Elizabeth in the line of succession with his bookish cousin and childhood friend Lady Jane Grey. One hasty marriage later to Gifford Dudley, the younger son of Edward’s chief minister, and Jane becomes the Queen of England after Edward’s death. She was queen for nine days until the Privy Council switched sides and Mary took back the throne.

The first part of the story more or less follows history here. Beyond that… well… you’ll just have to read it. I cannot recommend it enough.

The extra good news is that the Lady Janies (as the authors call themselves, I love it!) have at least two more books planned rewriting the history of two more Janes from the past! How great is that?!?

For fans of history, the Tudors, fantasy or fun, this is just a no brainer.

The Line Between Us (Kate Dunn) + Giveaway!

I received a copy of The Line Between Us for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

Image via Endeavour Press

Ifor Griffith lost both his father and older brother to the Great War. In time, his mother soon convinces him to give up his grammar school education to take a job as a gardener’s boy on the large estate near his Welsh village, where his father used to work as gardener. It is there that he meets and falls in love with Ella, the daughter of the house. This is at a time when status carries great meaning and Ifor knows that nothing can come of their mutual affection. While Ella is away on the continent, he eventually marries Jenny, a librarian.

It’s far from smooth sailing after that, with his longing for Ella a constant in his mind. In time, Ifor enlists to fight in World War II. When the ship requisitioned to rescue him and others from France is bombed by the Germans, it’s his determination to see Ella again that keeps him alive. Will he make it home and tell Ella how he really feels after all these years? Will they life happily ever after?

For starters, this is not a happy book. It’s pretty spectacularly depressing.  I know it sounds strange, but that’s a good thing, in this case. Sometimes a girl just needs a good tear jerker.

It took me a little bit to get used to the writing style. It’s almost as if Ifor is writing a letter to Ella, detailing his life. Once I got used to it, the writing is very evocative. The opening scene, in particular, is amazingly described.  The entire book is just lovely. Sad, but beautifully told.

Ifor himself is a wonderful character. It was impossible for me not to feel for him with everything he goes through in his life. Ella was harder for me to get attached to. She came over as spoiled. It was only through Ifor’s longing for her that I developed any real warmth for her. I liked him, so therefore, I liked her a little more. The supporting characters are great and really helped to fully flesh out the story for me. Mr Brown was a particular favorite, one sure to hit you right in the feels, too.

This story is inspired by the sinking of the Lancastria. This was a story I was unfamiliar with until I read this. It’s only been fairly recently that the story has really been told and I really suggest reading about it. It’s sad and fascinating.

I wasn’t sure going in that I would enjoy this book. Unrequited romances aren’t really my usual thing. But, I am very pleased to say that despite it’s melancholy subject matter, it was very enjoyable. If you need a beautifully written tale with a healthy dose of mournful, you should definitely check out The Line Between Us.

Almost as awesome? A free ebook from Endeavour Press for five lucky winners! They are the very cool publishers of not only The Line Between Us, but also of Busted Flush (which I reviewed a few weeks ago) and many others.

Free ebook from Endeavor press!

Busted Flush (Brad Smith)

I received a free copy of Busted Flush from the publisher (via Netgalley) in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

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Cover image via Endeavor Press

Dock Bass hates his job and is none to fond of his wife these days. After he learns from a lawyer that he’s inherited some property near Gettysburg, he’s more than happy to make a change. While renovating the Civil War era property he stumbles upon a veritable treasure trove of memorabilia. This includes a recording that might not only have predated Edison, but that might have the voice of Abraham Lincoln. It doesn’t take long for his tranquility to shatter when he is overrun with reporters and opportunists who all want a piece of Dock’s discovery. Can he stand up in the face of this onslaught?

It took me a few chapters to really warm to Busted Flush. The premise was an interesting one, but it started slow. But, after that I really get hooked. By the end, I couldn’t read fast enough, because I just HAD to know how everything was going to turn out. It was full of twists and turns that left me guessing until nearly the last page.

It didn’t hurt that the Civil War was involved. I obviously studied it as a kid in school, but recently got interested again after re-watching Ken Burn’s Civil War (which is amazing, if you haven’t seen it. And on Netflix. Just sayin’.). It isn’t set in the Civil War, but in modern Gettysburg, PA, and the history is a major focus.

The characters are brilliantly and clearly drawn, with quick, witty dialogue. They are all distinct and quirky. Dock’s taciturn silences are nicely balanced with his wit. Others you’ll love and some you’ll love to hate. No perfect characters here, they are all flawed, which makes them wonderfully realistic.

Busted Flush is clever and funny, a wonderful way to add a little excitement to a lazy summer day. A quick scan of Brad Smith’s website suggests his other books will probably be just as interesting.