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Historical Fiction

    Review: Grave Mercy

    Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers was released in the U.S. on April 3, 2012 in hardcover, audio and eBook editions. It is currently available to order online in all formats at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

    Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, the print edition is 560 pages.

    Grave Mercy is the first book in the His Fair Assassin series by author Robin LaFevers. Dark Triumph, the second book in the series, and Dark Hope, the third book, are both slated for release in 2013.

    ***

    Goodreads description:

    Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

    Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

    Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

    ***

    Ismae Rienne never imagined an existence outside the dark, pain-filled and hopeless one the man she called her father created. Forced to marry the local pig farmer, she at least hoped to find in him the kindness she had never experienced. But it was not to be.

    So when the convent of St. Mortain welcomed her, Ismae never thought of saying no. Even if she had to abide by their rules. And even if it meant she would be beholden to the god they revered.

    A god who some believed to be only a saint. A god who dictated the convent’s every decision. A god who sought vengeance against those who had done wrong. And a god who demanded of his daughters the retribution he sought to enforce.

    The very same god purported to be her father. And the god who was in fact Death.

    After years of training to be Death’s assassin, armed only with the skills she learned at the convent and her innate ability to detect poisons, Ismae set out with the directive to carry out her god’s wishes.

    Desperately wanting to succeed, never anticipating failure, Ismae was quick to master her abilities and to act without question. But when not everything turned out to be as black and white as she once thought, meting out punishments without reservation meant risking herself, her humanity and even her heart.

    ***

    Grave Mercy is an epic tale of deceit, betrayal, mystery, suspense, action, adventure and love. The author’s rich and beautifully descriptive writing sets the stage for a story that is equally as textured, layered and compelling. The result is lush, magical and utterly riveting and the start to a new series that will be absolutely unforgettable.

    Strong female characters, exceptional abilities and deadly missions combine with a devious, underhanded, plotting and scheming nobility to create something rather unique. And with a historical setting that weaves in elements of fiction and fantasy, Grave Mercy will enchant readers and transport them to this other time and place.

    To a world where the gods of days of old still have power. To a world where girls are trained to serve, to fight, to carry out their deadliest of wishes. To a world where being in power by no means guarantees safety. Even for the most honorable of rulers. Or the youngest.

    As Ismae Rienne learns the truth about who she is and what her purpose is within the confines of the convent of St. Mortain, she begins to develop into someone strong and deadly. Someone more than capable of carrying out Death’s vengeful plans.

    But when her instructions leave her with questions and doubts about what she’s done and what she’s supposed to do, she must decide whether she can live with the consequences of either questioning her orders or following them blindly.

    One means turning her back on the only home and family she knows. The other means ignoring her heart and what she feels to be right. Both require a steep price to be paid. Neither are likely to end happily.

    Full of twists and turns, tension and nail-biting suspense, and a mystery that will keep readers guessing as to who is really involved in the deadly plots afoot in Brittany and whether Ismae will be the Duchess’ savior or her downfall, Grave Mercy will entice. It will engage. It will enthrall. And it won’t let go.

    Author Robin LaFevers has done a remarkable job of bewitching readers with her new historical fantasy novel. This first book in the His Fair Assassin series more than introduces a character and world to its readers. It submerges them in the character’s life and old world setting, creating an unbreakable connection for the entire read.

    At well over five hundred pages, the story flies, easily captivating readers with the author’s ability to paint a picture with her words and by the the exciting tale this story tells. From the political maneuvering, to the assassination attempts, to a treachery so deep that no one is above suspicion, to one character’s heartbreaking journey through this danger-filled landscape, Grave Mercy is an absolutely unputdownable must read first book in the series.

    Reviewer gives this book…

    On a personal note:

    When I first saw the cover for Grave Mercy I thought it was simply a historical fiction novel. What I missed was the crossbow.

    My curiosity was most definitely piqued. And even though I was intrigued by the cover and the book’s description, I did not expect to be swept away by this story. But I was. Grave Mercy was so completely enchanting and captivating and seductive that I found myself lost in this story set in an era long gone by.

    I was completely transported into this world of Dukes and Duchesses, Barons and Viscounts. I was transfixed by the gamesmanship, betrayals, deceit and mystery. And I fell in love with the characters.

    Ismae Rienne was immediately lovable and sympathetic. The story, told in the first person from her point of view, made it so easy to connect with her. Even with the historical setting and the slight differences in the language of the time, she shined.

    She was kind and brave and smart and humble and grew to be someone who was absolutely deadly. But she had her own mind, she was willing to take risks to get to the truth, and she had a heart. And while she may have been afraid to succumb to her feelings at first, she wasn’t closed off to doing so.

    And Gavriel Duval was her perfect match. Witty, charming, clever, strong and equally as brave, he complemented her so totally that I couldn’t help but root for them from the getgo. They most definitely had chemistry and I spent much of the read wishing for their happy ending.

    But it wasn’t just the two main characters that gave this story its allure. With a great mix of incredibly likable and utterly vile characters and those that fell somewhere in between, I was totally hooked. I wanted to see those evil characters get what they deserved and for good to win out in the end.

    Of course, figuring out who was good and who was evil wasn’t always easy. I wasn’t completely sure who to trust – I’m still not sure about certain characters – which made the betrayal and intrigue and mystery that much more tantalizing and this story more spellbinding.

    I’m just glad that certain events went down as they did. I just wish others didn’t. Because the way some things happened did break my heart just a little bit. And while I did not expect to tear up in a story about Death’s Assassins, I did.

    And while I absolutely loved the characters, oh my gosh the writing. It was gorgeous. Absolutely beautifully, stunningly gorgeous. From the first sentence I was ensnared. The author painted such a vivid and beautiful and at times dark picture of her world.

    But I was right there. In the middle of it all. With Ismae. With Duval. And I was so caught up in the story and the writing that I had no clue it was over five hundred pages long. It was epic. But the story just flew by. And at its end I was shocked and surprised because I wanted more.

    And so now I have to wait. For a story I’m told will be from a different character’s perspective. To return to a world that felt very real, that the author brought to life so incredibly well, and that kept me so thoroughly engaged that I was sad to return to the here and now.

    So, yes, I love this epic story that makes me long to include the term “mayhap” in my everyday speech. And, yes, I may be just slightly in love with Duval and Beast. And, yes, I absolutely adore Ismae and Anne. And most definitely yes, I can’t wait for the next book to come out so I can find out more about Sybella and return to this period in time which mixes reality with fantasy and luxury and privilege with deception and death.

    ***

    The writing in this book was gorgeous. But there was one passage that I just knew would be my favorite from the very second I read it…

    His smile flashes, quick and surprising in the darkness. “When one consorts with assassins, one must expect to dance along the edge of a knife once or twice. I bid you good night.”

    But there was also a passage that made me smile… and still does…

    Her words are sharp, but her voice is sweet, like honey on the edge of a blade, and meant to be cutting. I comfort myself with the knowledge that if Duval ever feels smothered by me, it will be because I am holding a pillow over his face and commending his soul to Mortain.

    ***

    This review is based on both an eARC and a printed ARC I received from the publisher, through NetGalley and the Shelf Awareness newsletter, in exchange for my honest review.

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    Review: Cascade

    Cascade by Lisa T. Bergren is the second book in The River of Time series. It was released in the U.S. on June 1, 2011 in paperback and eBook formats.

    It is currently available to order online in both formats at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

    Published by David C. Cook, the print edition is 416 pages.

    ***Goodreads description is slightly spoiler-y for some of the events in book one***

    Goodreads description:

    Mom touched my underdress—a gown made six hundred years before—and her eyes widened as she rubbed the raw silk between thumb and forefinger. She turned and touched Lia’s gown. “Where did you get these clothes?”

    Gabi knows she’s left her heart in the fourteenth century and she persuades Lia to help her to return, even though they know doing so will risk their very lives. When they arrive, weeks have passed and all of Siena longs to celebrate the heroines who turned the tide in the battle against Florence—while the Florentines will go to great lengths to see them dead. But Marcello patiently awaits, and Gabi must decide if she’s willing to leave her family behind for good in order to give her heart to him forever.

    ***

    When Gabriella Betarrini left Siena, she left her heart behind. With every single moment in the present she knows that days, weeks or even months are passing.

    Staring at the ruins of Castello Forelli, all she wants is to return to the past to see if her love awaits, or if her long absence has forced him to move on. And every second of not knowing feels like an eternity.

    But the only way back to the past is with the help of her sister Lia. And unless she can convince Lia to take the journey with her, she will be forever trapped in the present with no way of knowing what ever became of her beloved Marcello.

    Even with her sister’s help, there is no guarantee she would find her way back to that same moment in time, to the boy she gave her heart to, and the place she now calls home.

    Will the Siena she returns to be the same one she left? With such a long absence will Marcello have decided to honor his commitment to the Lady Rossi?

    With each passing second, Gabi knows only that she must get back to fight for what is hers.

    ***

    Cascade is the fast-paced, thrilling and even more irresistible second book in The River of Time series. Readers are once again taken back to fourteenth century Italy with Gabriella Betarrini where her adventure continues.

    While the Sienese herald her return, not everyone is as welcoming. Being a heroine to some means becoming an enemy to others and Gabi has some difficult decisions to make. But this time she’s not alone.

    Time has passed and not everything is as she had left it. And although some things may seem to have changed for the better, her actions have set things in motion that have altered the past as it once was.

    As the unease between Firenze and Siena continues to build and suspicions against those once considered loyal are raised, Gabi must figure out who can be trusted before her enemies align forces and begin a siege against Castello Forelli, and all of Siena, that can’t be won.

    In Cascade, the tension continues to build from the first page to the last. As Gabriella tries to protect all those she loves and the Sienese people that have captured her heart, she is once again catapulted into the middle of a long-standing power struggle between these two cities. But this time there’s a bounty on her head and her safety is now more important than ever.

    Author Lisa T. Bergren continues to enthrall readers with her gripping tale of epic battles, fearsome pursuits and heroic rescues. Her writing style once again invites readers into the story and the world she has so richly developed.

    Although a fictional account, the characters and events feel very believable. The author has not sugar-coated this story to make it less primitive or barbaric than everyday life during that period in time.

    And as the heroine, Gabriella continues to grow stronger and becomes even more loyal and committed to the people of Siena. As an icon, she is truly worthy of their respect and devotion.

    Cascade is another exciting installment in this series and with its cliffhanger ending, Torrent, which comes out this fall, is a book not to be missed.

    Reviewer gives this book [rating=5]

    On a personal note:

    I am such a huge fan of this series. I loved having the opportunity to read both books back-to-back. I only wish I had Torrent, the third book, as September seems so far off and a long time to be left hanging.

    Yes. Cascade ends much in the same way as Waterfall, with many things left up in the air. And although it ends on a hopeful note, the wait will be torturous.

    There are so many things I want to talk about from this book, but am holding back as it might spoil parts of the first book in the series for those who haven’t read it. So, if I am vague it’s on purpose.

    I loved the new twists and turns in Cascade. There were moments that I was practically holding my breath, waiting to see how certain events turned out. The author did a fantastic job of creating tension. I spent much of this book racing through the words just to find out whether things would be okay.

    I loved once again being back in the fourteenth century and seeing Medieval Italy through Gabi’s eyes. As much action as there was in the first book, in this one it quadruples.

    Cascade has more enemies, more danger, more battles, more chases and even more people not to be trusted. But in the midst of all this, there is still love, honor, and even kindness from the most unexpected of sources.

    With the constant threat of war, plague and just the overall cruelty of the time, the Italy we see in Cascade is probably not one I want to time travel to any time soon. But Gabi fits so well into that world.

    And in Cascade she has grown stronger and even more courageous than ever, and is ready to put her life on the line not just for love, but for the place she now sees as home.

    One of my favorite characters has returned, and we see less of some of my least favorite characters, thankfully. But there is a new, very intriguing character in this book that surprised me. I kept hoping that they would be more than what they appeared, and they were.

    And although this is simply a fictional tale, the author does not unrealistically give every single character a happily ever after. It is war, after all and there will be loss.

    There are a few more spiritual aspects to this story, but for the most part they don’t affect the pacing or detract from the storyline, and in some instances they bring something more to the story, giving Gabi a bit more depth to her character.

    As the action has dramatically picked up in this book, there was a lot less time for a love story, which I missed just a little, but it was there, and there was so much more to keep me hooked.

    I am dying to find out what happens in the next book. There are so many questions left at the end of this book as compared to Waterfall and of course Torrent isn’t out for a few months.

    I want to go back into the story and the world that the author created. I already miss the adventures and characters and I just finished reading it. I got so absorbed into the story, that being yanked back into the here and now has me slightly dazed.

    I am just glad that there is only a four month wait rather than a year for the next book. And I will be re-reading the finished copy of Cascade, to see if there are differences from the version I read, prior to Torrent’s release.

    ***

    Book trailer for Cascade:

    This review is based on an eARC received from the author.

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    Review: Waterfall

    Waterfall by Lisa T. Bergren is the first book in The River of Time Series and is the author’s young adult debut. It was released on February 1, 2011 in the U.S and is currently available to order online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble in paperback, eBook and audio formats.

    Published by David C. Cook, the print edition is 384 pages.

    Waterfall is one of the books that can be chosen for the 2011 Debut Author Challenge hosted by Kristi at TheStorySiren.com.

    Goodreads description:

    Lisa Tawn Bergren’s new YA series, River of Time, is romantic, historical fiction in which the plucky heroine doesn’t have to fear a vampire’s bite but must still fight for her life.

    In Waterfall, American teenager Gabi Betarrini accidently finds herself in Fourteenth-Century Italy . . . Knights. Swords. Horses. Armor. And Italian hotties.

    Most American teens want an Italian vacation, but the Betarrini sisters have spent every summer of their lives there with their archaeologist parents. Stuck on yet another hot, dusty dig, they are bored out of their minds… until they place their hands atop handprints in an ancient tomb and find themselves catapulted into the Fourteenth Century and in the middle of a fierce battle between knights bent on killing one another.

    ***

    Falling in love is never without complication. But falling in love with someone from a different century, a different lifetime, than yours is the ultimate test. And it is even more of a challenge when that someone is promised to another.

    Gabriella Betarrini was never that excited about being dragged to Italy every summer while her parents sought to discover ancient treasures on their archaeological expeditions. And after her father’s death, being back in Italy, with her mother and sister, while her mom practically ignored them, was even worse.

    It was not as if she was a part of anything remotely interesting. She and her sister were really nothing more than gofers and laborers. But when she and Lia make a discovery inside one of the tombs, her summer takes an unexpected turn.

    Being transported nearly seven hundred years into the past, separated from her sister, and with no idea how to return home, Gabi must quickly adapt to her surroundings or risk being captured or even killed for being seen as a spy or witch.

    But, there are worse places or times where she could have ended up instead of Italy in the fourteenth century. And being taken to a castle and placed under the protection of Sir Marcello Forelli, the handsome future lord of Castello Forelli, was not exactly torture.

    All she needed was to find her sister and figure out how to get back to where she belonged. And all that was standing in her way were a few minor obstacles – sword-wielding enemies guarding the passage back, traitors looking to destroy the Forelli’s and anyone who sided with them, and Marcello and his knights who were hell-bent on ensuring her safety.

    And one major one – walking away from the only boy she’s ever loved and leaving her heart in the past.

    ***

    Waterfall is an exciting adventure and enchanting love story that is completely irresistible. It takes readers on a journey back in time to a world where honor and nobility go hand-in-hand with cruelty and violence. A time when men were the protectors, where danger lurked around every corner and friends could just as easily turn out to be enemies.

    It is to this world that Gabriella Betarrini is transported one afternoon. Coming from modern day Italy to a past that is nearly seven centuries old isn’t the shock she thinks it should be. Somehow this time, this place, feel so familiar to her.

    And when she meets Marcello, the younger son of Lord Forelli, she is immediately drawn to him. And he to her. But as future lord of the Castello, his responsibilities are to his family and to his people. And his commitment to the Lady Rossi cannot be broken. Even if it means breaking Gabriella’s heart.

    Author Lisa Bergren has written an absolutely captivating, magical story of time travel, adventure and romance. Waterfall will keep readers on the edge of their seats wondering what will happen next. The story is action-packed, filled with sword battles and constant threats to Gabriella and the Forelli’s, and the tension between Gabi and Marcello is nail-biting.

    Gabriella is smart, brave, loyal and ever so resourceful. She is quick to jump in to defend those she cares about and does not give up when things are difficult or scary. It is her bravery that earns her the respect of the people during a time when it could have just as easily earned their mistrust. And it is her strength and compassion that attract Marcello to her.

    Waterfall is absolute must-read for readers who enjoy a love story that will also take them on an adventure to another time and place.

    Reviewer gives this book [rating=5]

    On a personal note:

    This book was so totally enchanting. I wasn’t one hundred percent sure what to expect having read the description. I knew there would be time travel and knights and battles, which are always awesome, but I thought perhaps it would read more like one of those middle grade time travel stories, which are sweet and lovable, but are more about the adventure than the characters.

    Not even close. This story didn’t neglect the characters at all. They actually made this story amazing.

    I adored Gabriella and loved how easily she fit into fourteenth century Italy but still retained who she was, enough so to catch the eye of Marcello Forelli. And that although she adapted with ease to the manner of speaking, she was still put out by the lack of modern conveniences like hair conditioner and indoor plumbing.

    And I don’t think any girl could read this story without falling for Marcello Forelli. Handsome, brave, honorable, noble and confident, but daring enough to be captivated by the head-strong Gabriella. And not only was he taken with her, he was amazed by her. How hot is that?

    Luca was a total charmer. I always love stories that include a character like him. He’s the guy that is always there to help, breaks up the tension, adds humor and is one you hope finds his own love story. And Lady Rossi was the perfect two-faced and untrustworthy competition for Marcello’s affections.

    Stories about time travel can often come across as somewhat unbelievable, but I was completely taken back in time with Gabi, caught up in the both the beauty of the time and its cruelty. Not for a moment was I pulled out of the story or the era by something that just didn’t ring true.

    Although I fell in love with fourteenth century Italy, with its knights and castles, my favorite part was the love story. It gave me butterflies. Gabriella and Marcello’s love may have been pure and chaste, but it was so intense.

    I love when an author can build that tension into the story with just a look or a touch. Every single time Gabi and Marcello exchanged glances, or when he moved that lock of hair behind her ear, I think I swooned a bit.

    I got so caught up in the story that I read it in one sitting. And was so glad that I had the second book on hand, or that ending might have completely devastated me. It wasn’t a completely evil cliffhanger, as a few things were answered, but I think I would have died a little bit not knowing what happened next if I had to wait four months for Cascade.

    How I “discovered” this book:

    Waterfall is a “Just Discovered” just got a chance to read book.

    I discovered this book back in January when checking out the 2011 Debut Author Challenge list. The story appealed to me as it involved time travel, knights, sword battles and a love story. And as I hadn’t read too many historical fiction novels, but wanted to, this one seemed a perfect fit.

    Of course, as it always seems to happen these days, time passed, deadlines loomed, and I did not get a chance to read this right away. But I was recently contacted by the author to see if I’d be interested in reviewing the second book in the series, Cascade. And of course I jumped at the chance, as I already had Cascade on my list of pre-orders and planned to read both books this summer.

    So, I moved Waterfall to the top of the pile in order to get caught up on the story prior to reading Cascade.

    ***

    Book trailer for Waterfall:

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    Review: The Vespertine

    The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell was released yesterday, March 7, 2011, in the U.S. in hardcover and eBook formats. It is currently available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble in both formats. (Although Amazon has been shipping the hardcover for over a week now.)

    Published by Harcourt Children’s Books the print edition is 304 pages.

    Goodreads description:

    It’s the summer of 1889, and Amelia van den Broek is new to Baltimore and eager to take in all the pleasures the city has to offer. But her gaiety is interrupted by disturbing, dreamlike visions she has only at sunset—visions that offer glimpses of the future. Soon, friends and strangers alike call on Amelia to hear her prophecies.

    However, a forbidden romance with Nathaniel, an artist, threatens the new life Amelia is building in Baltimore. This enigmatic young man is keeping secrets of his own—still, Amelia finds herself irrepressibly drawn to him.

    When one of her darkest visions comes to pass, Amelia’s world is thrown into chaos. And those around her begin to wonder if she’s not the seer of dark portents, but the cause.

    ***

    It was a time of corsets and bustles and petticoats. Where people who came to call left a calling card and where young ladies only danced with those socially acceptable gentlemen who signed their dance cards.

    But the freedoms and charms that the city of Baltimore held were thrilling and exciting to a young girl from Broken Tooth, Maine, making it near impossible for Amelia van den Broek to stay within the constraints of what was deemed appropriate.

    Sent to stay with her cousins, the Stewarts, for the summer, Amelia was meant to make the proper acquaintances, elevate her social standing and possibly find an acceptable match for marriage. Her brother August’s hopes were high that she would no longer be his burden, but Amelia was drawn to a young man who was most definitely not her social equal, let alone just slightly above.

    Nathaniel Witherspoon was an artist. Someone acceptable enough to be a “fourteenth” to round out the group at a party or to accept a dance with, but not someone with which to begin a courtship and certainly not of proper marriage material. But whether due to the vibrancy of the city or to her newly found freedom, Amelia finds his flirtatious ways and the unpredictability of his nature very appealing.

    When she begins having premonitions of the future as she gazes into the sunset, her talents quickly become in high demand, giving her a greater sense of pride, power and wantonness. But when her portents of the future turn dark, suspicion is immediately cast her way.

    What at first was a promising trip filled with possibility for her future turns into Amelia’s worst nightmare where she is seen as cause for everything bad that she has predicted.

    ***

    The Vespertine is an elegant and beautiful novel which transports you to another era. It is also joyous and uplifting while at the same time tragic and heartbreaking. The writing is fluid and eloquent and is so well suited to the time period that you are immediately drawn into the world of 1889 Baltimore.

    The exuberance of Amelia and Zora is endearing and it is refreshing to meet these two characters at this particular time in their lives, just before the responsibilities of womanhood are placed on their shoulders. Both girls were raised properly but still have that spark which fills their experiences with gaiety and the innocence of their youth.

    As the story progresses the joy and lightness begins to darken, which you see glimpses of as the story moves back and forth between the fall in Maine and the spring and summer in Baltimore, until the story reaches its surprising end.

    The paranormal elements, such as Amelia’s predictions, were essential features and added a layer of depth to this story that it might not otherwise have had. Author Saundra Mitchell managed to tie this aspect in to the story and make it not only fit in well, but a very real and believable part of pre-1900s Baltimore life – people were accepting of Amelia’s talents, even intrigued, but they were quick to lay blame when things went awry.

    While it may take a paragraph or two to become familiar with the style of dialogue of the period, it will flow easily very quickly and the author’s writing will captivate.

    This book is a must read. And, if you are not a fan of historical fiction, don’t immediately turn away from this book. It is not your typical weighty novel filled with page after page of period detail. The story is very much character driven, with just the right amount of description given to get a feel for what is going on in the city and with the remainder filled in by dialog.

    Reviewer gives this book [rating=5]

    On a personal note:

    I was initially intrigued by the book’s cover. It was romantic and so pretty and with a title like The Vespertine, I thought I had to at least give it a look. And with the added paranormal aspect I figured there must be something I’d like.

    I’ll admit, I did put off reading this for a short while. Historical romantic fiction is not typically a genre I read. The last book may have been Gone With the Wind. (And no, I didn’t read it in 1936. I’m not THAT old.)

    But just one paragraph in I was lost. This story grabbed me and turned me into a fan. I just love Amelia. She has all the angst of a modern day girl but the propriety of someone from her time. She is only slightly impetuous, but enough so that she’s not the least bit boring. And I loved the fact that Zora gave her mother such a hard time, but you could clearly see that she adored her.

    The ending may come as a shock, or a surprise, but I just had a feeling…(and I’ll say no more!)

    This is absolutely worth giving a read and I’m so glad that I didn’t let the genre put me off giving it a shot. I liked it so much that I pre-ordered it even though my review is based on the eARC.

    ***

    To learn more about the world of The Vespertine check out the book’s website here.

    Book trailer for The Vespertine:

    Thank you Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley for the review copy.

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    GUEST REVIEW: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

    Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by debut author Jamie Ford – reviewed by Nic

    Goodreads (partial) description:

    Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.

    As Henry walks by the Panama Hotel, amongst the crowd, he sees that the belongings of evacuated Japanese are being unveiled after 40 years. Henry sees a parasol that makes him reflect on his childhood, and we’re taken back in time….

    Young Henry must speak English in the house (although his parents do not understand). He is not accepted in his American school (because he’s Chinese), and he’s not accepted amongst the Chinese kids (because he’s “American”). As a lonely child, he finds friendship with a Japanese girl in the American school, also “scholarshipping.” They become fast friends, unbeknownst to his very anti-Japanese father. As their friendship grows, the Japanese are having more and more problems because of the ongoing war. Then, when the Japanese are taken away to internment camps, and Keiko is among them, what can Henry do? Will he ever see her again?

    Back in the present, Henry is searching among the dust in the basement of the hotel for Keiko’s belongings, during which time, his son (and the reader) is finding out more and more about his father’s very difficult early years. What will he find? What more can we learn?

    This serious tear-jerker is a must read. It is the story of our past, and of our future. Henry was blind to Keiko’s nationality, as should people today be blind of our differences. This story will open hearts and hopefully minds…

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    GUEST REVIEW: The Crimson Petal and the White

    The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber – reviewed by Nic

    Goodreads description:

    Although it’s billed as “the first great 19th-century novel of the 21st century,” The Crimson Petal and the White is anything but Victorian. The story of a well-read London prostitute named Sugar, who spends her free hours composing a violent, pornographic screed against men, Michel Faber’s dazzling second novel dares to go where George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss and the works of Charles Dickens could not. We learn about the positions and orifices that Sugar and her clients favor, about her lingering skin condition, and about the suspect ingredients of her prophylactic douches. Still, Sugar believes she can make a better life for herself. When she is taken up by a wealthy man, the perfumer William Rackham, her wings are clipped, and she must balance financial security against the obvious servitude of her position. The physical risks and hardships of Sugar’s life (and the even harder “honest” life she would have led as a factory worker) contrast–yet not entirely–with the medical mistreatment of her benefactor’s wife, Agnes, and beautifully underscore Faber’s emphasis on class and sexual politics. In theme and treatment, this is a novel that Virginia Woolf might have written, had she been born 70 years later. The language, however, is Faber’s own–brisk and elastic–and, after an awkward opening, the plethora of detail he offers (costume, food, manners, cheap stage performances, the London streets) slides effortlessly into his forward-moving sentences. When Agnes goes mad, for instance, “she sings on and on, while the house is discreetly dusted all around her and, in the concealed and subterranean kitchen, a naked duck, limp and faintly steaming, spreads its pimpled legs on a draining board.” Despite its 800-plus pages, The Crimson Petal and the White turns out to be a quick read, since it is truly impossible to put down.

    “Watch your step. Keep your wits about you; you will need them. This city I am bringing you to is vast and intricate, and you have not been here before. You may imagine, from other stories you’ve read, that you know it well, but those stories flattered you, welcoming you as a friend, treating you as if you belonged. The truth is that you are an alien from another time and place altogether…”

    The narrator talks to YOU and tells YOU what to do.  You listen and obey and watch, mesmerized.  You are the voyeur on this journey in 19th century London.

    This book is very heavy for it’s 900+ pages but worth every wrist cramp you get.  The pages are made of a quality unlike any other book I’ve read – smooth and silky, and so complementary to the story.  You’ll be completely captivated from the first word until the last.  When you finish, you’re actually left with a yearning for more, not believing that the story is so quickly OVER!  Don’t let the size of this book sway you – you’ll enjoy every page!

    Note: *Not for the innocent/squeamish, as there are scenes of filth and dirty sex; the basic everyday lives of Victorian women and prostitutes…

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