Thursday, May 30, 2013

Armchair BEA Day 3: Literary Fiction and a Giveaway

It's Day 3 of Armchair BEA, the place to be for book bloggers unable to attend Book Expo America happening right now in NYC.    In place of a general discussion for today, it's time for a giveaway!!!  Who doesn't love a giveaway?  The details are listed below.

Today's genre topic is literary fiction, but since I don't read a lot of literary fiction I don't have much to say about it.   To be honest, while I generally appreciate the writing in literary fiction, the stories themselves tend not to captivate me.  It's for this reason I generally stay away from anything categorized as literary, at least when it comes to contemporary novels.   I will occasionally read literary historical novels (Wolf Hall is one of my all-time favourite books) but they usually don't do much for me either.  

Does  anyone else avoid literary fiction?  If so, why?   If you love literary fiction, are there any books you can recommend that might make me rethink my decision to stay away from literary novels? 

In honour of my participation in Armchair BEA, I'm offering one lucky entrant the book of their choice (valued at up to $15 Canadian) from The Book Depository.  

Here are the giveaway details:

- The giveaway will be open internationally (or at least to those entrants who live in a country The Book Depository ships to).

- To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment below with your email address.

- The giveaway will be open until midnight (EST) on June 7th.

Good luck!  

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Armchair BEA Day 2: Blogger Development and Genre Fiction

It's time for more Armchair BEA!  Today's topics are Blogger Development and Genre Fiction.

Blogger Development

This topic provides participants with the opportunity to discuss how they have or are developing as a blogger. 

I've been blogging for about 2.5 years now, and I've always kind of done my own thing blogging-wise.  I've tried out various weekly memes, but my participation is pretty inconsistent.  I don't partner with other bloggers, although I quite like the idea of it.  This past year I have become more heavily involved with organized virtual book tours and reviewing ARCs, although I'm going to try and cut back on this in future as my own TBR pile is being sadly neglected because of it.   One of the most exciting developments for me recently has been the redesign of my blog.   I'm so happy with how it turned out and think the design of my blog is now a good reflection of my personality. 

Looking to the future, one of the things I would most like to work on is to consistently post not just book reviews, but posts designed to generate discussions on a book-related topic.  I started posting a weekly Book Chat feature a few months back, but life has gotten in the way of my good intentions and I've neglected this feature recently.  I plan to get it going again very soon as I love talking about any and all things bookish!  If anyone has any ideas for discussion topics feel free to share them with me :-)

Genre Fiction

This is a great topic for yours truly.   My favourite genres are historical fiction and fantasy, with the bulk of the reading I do each year falling into these two categories (I've read 38 books so far this year and all but a couple have been works of historical fiction).  

Historical Fiction:  My love of historical fiction stems from my love of history.   For this reason I
prefer my historical fiction to be as historically accurate as possible and contain rich detail that creates a strong sense of both time and place.   I love nothing more than to lose myself in the past through a great work of historical fiction. 

My favourite works of historical fiction include:

- Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel;
- Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel;
- The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman;
- When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman;
- The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick;
- I Am The Chosen King by Helen Hollick;
- Katherine by Anya Seton; and
- Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. 

Pillars of the Earth was the novel that got me hooked on historical fiction way back when I was a teenager, and I think it is a great place to start for readers new to the genre.

Fantasy:  I've been reading historical fiction since I was a teenager, but my love for the fantasy genre is a more recent development.   I started reading the Harry Potter series in my mid-20s, but it wasn't until I began reading George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series that I truly became hooked on this genre.   I love picking up novels set in worlds completely different from the one we inhabit, especially worlds where magic is real.  

If you're interested in trying out some great fantasy reads, but are unsure where to start, here are my favourite fantasy series:

- A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin (first book Game of Thrones);
- Green Rider by Kristen Britain (first book Green Rider);
- Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb (first book Assassin's Apprentice);
- The Riyria Revelations by Michael J. Sullivan (first book Theft of Swords);
- The Study Series by Maria V. Snyder (first book Poison Study); and
- Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (first book Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone).

What about you?  Do you read fantasy or historical fiction?  Do you have any recommendations for me? 
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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Armchair BEA Day One: Introduction & Classics

Design by Sarah of Puss Reboots 
It's time to kick-off the 2013 edition of Armchair BEA, a week-long blogging event designed for book bloggers who are unable to attend Book Expo America.  This will be my first time participating in Armchair BEA and I'm excited to take part!  I'll start things off with my answers to some of the Armchair BEA introductory questions:

(1) Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? 

I'm Melissa, and I've been blogging for about two and half years.  I've always been passionate about reading and decided to get involved in book blogging as a way to share my love of books with others and to participate in online book and book-related discussions.

(2) Where in the world are you blogging from? Tell a random fact or something special about your current location.

I'm blogging from Ottawa, the capital of Canada.  Ottawa has the distinction of being the snowiest capital city in the world!   It is also home to the world's largest outdoor skating rink, the 7.8 kilometre Rideau Canal skateway, which attracts hundreds of thousands of skaters each winter.  

(3) What are you currently reading, or what is your favorite book you have read so far in 2013?

The best books I've read so far in 2013 are The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn, which is set just before, during and immediately after WWI, and The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway, a time travel novel that reminded me of why I love to read.   Click on the titles to read my review.  

(4) If you could eat dinner with any author or character, who would it be and why?  

This is a really difficult question to answer, as there are so many authors and fictional characters I would love to have dinner with.  Since I can only select one I'm going to pick my favourite author, Jane Austen.  I'd love to hear who and what inspired each of her novels.   I'm also fascinated by the time period in which Jane Austen lived and would love to hear a first hand account of what life was really like. 
(5)  What literary location would you most like to visit? Why? 

This is a question I don't have to think twice about.  I'd love to visit Hogwarts.   The Harry Potter series is a favourite of mine and I'd love to spend a day learning all about magic with Harry and his friends :-) 

Genre Discussion: Classics

The first genre discussion of Armchair BEA 2013 is classics.  

I've enjoyed almost every work of classic literature I've read, and count several classics as all-time favourite reads:

- Persuasion by Jane Austen;
- Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen;
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte;
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte; and
- North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell.

I must admit, however, that I rarely go out of my way to read works of classic literature.  In fact, other than my re-read of Persuasion a couple of months ago I haven't read a classic in a few years.  I always intend to read more classics, and have quite a few of them that have been sitting on my shelves for years waiting for me to pick them up, but I just never seem to do so.  

Here are a few of the classics that I am determined to get to one of these days:

- Tess of the D'Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy;
- Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy;
- The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins;
- Wives & Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell;
- A Passage to India by E.M. Forster; and
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. 

Does anyone have any thoughts on which classic I should make a point of reading soon?  What do you think of my list of favourites?

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Book Review: A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn


The daughter of a scandalous mother, Delilah Drummond is already notorious, even among Paris society. But her latest scandal is big enough to make even her oft-married mother blanch. Delilah is exiled to Kenya and her favorite stepfather's savanna manor house until gossip subsides.

Fairlight is the crumbling, sun-bleached skeleton of a faded African dream, a world where dissolute expats are bolstered by gin and jazz records, cigarettes and safaris. As mistress of this wasted estate, Delilah falls into the decadent pleasures of society.

Against the frivolity of her peers, Ryder White stands in sharp contrast. As foreign to Delilah as Africa, Ryder becomes her guide to the complex beauty of this unknown world. Giraffes, buffalo, lions and elephants roam the shores of Lake Wanyama amid swirls of red dust. Here, life is lush and teeming—yet fleeting and often cheap.

Amidst the wonders—and dangers—of Africa, Delilah awakes to a land out of all proportion: extremes of heat, darkness, beauty and joy that cut to her very heart. Only when this sacred place is profaned by bloodshed does Delilah discover what is truly worth fighting for—and what she can no longer live without.

MIRA Books  | April 30, 2013 | 384 pages

My Review

3.5 Stars

Deanna Raybourn's latest novel, A Spear of Summer Grass, is set predominantly in colonial Kenya during the 1920s.  After becoming embroiled in a scandal that just won't go away, rebellious Parisian socialite Delilah Drummond is forced by her family to flee to Africa until she is no longer the talk of the town.  Delilah accepts her exile with little protest, thinking that her African sojourn won't be a long one or, as she'll become the mistress of Fairlight, the Kenyan estate of one of her stepfathers, particularly difficult.  But Africa proves to be much more than Delilah bargained for, and she finds she must quickly adapt to an environment both beautiful and unforgiving if she hopes to leave it unscathed.  

Being a big fan of Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julia Grey series, I eagerly anticipated the publication of this novel.   For the most part I wasn't disappointed.  Like Raybourn's previous novels, A Spear of Summer Grass is written in such a way as to fully engage the reader in the story.  I've always been impressed by Raybourn's prose and the prose in this novel proves to be no exception.  The setting, particularly the Fairlight estate and the savanna on which it sits, is vividly conveyed and proves to be the novel's greatest strength.  Despite lovely prose and a well-drawn setting, A Spear of Summer Grass didn't meet my expectations in one key area: the main characters.  I just didn't like Delilah or her love interest, Ryder White.  I thought Delilah was vain, selfish and cruel to those she felt were her social inferiors, especially her cousin Dora, who accompanies her to Kenya.  As a result, I had a very difficult time garnering any sympathy for Delilah and accepting that Ryder White would be attracted to her.   While Delilah does experience some personal growth over the course of the novel, it wasn't enough to change my opinion of her.  The small colonial society in which Delilah finds herself a part of when she arrives at Fairlight is made up of an diverse mix of eclectic individuals, and Raybourn does a good job of bringing them (and their lifestyles) to life.  Of all the characters in the novel the ones to which most drawn were Gideon, a Masai warrior and friend to Ryder, and Moses, Gideon's young brother.   I only wish they had been featured more prominently.    Although I prefer Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julie Grey novels to this one, the setting of A Spear of Summer Grass makes it a novel worth reading.

Recommended to fans of Deanna Raybourn's previous novels, as well as to readers interested in historical fiction set in Africa. 

Note: I was provided with a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Giveaway Winner - Cascade by Maryanne O'Hara

I'm pleased to announce that the winner of my giveaway for Cascade by Maryanne O'Hara, selected using, is:


Congratulations!  I hope you enjoy the novel as much as I did.  

Thanks to all who entered and to Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for the opportunity to host the giveaway.   

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Guest Post by Author David Morrell

It is my pleasure to welcome author David Morrell to Confessions of an Avid Reader today as part of his virtual tour for his latest novel, Murder As A Fine Art (click on the title to read my review). 


I can’t help noticing the similarity between this website’s name and CONFESSIONS OF AN ENGLISH OPIUM-EATER by Thomas De Quincey, the main character of my new novel, MURDER AS A FINE ART.  In addition to being the first person to write about drug addiction (in 1821), De Quincey was notorious for his blood-soaked essay ON MURDER CONSIDERED AS ONE OF THE FINE ARTS, in which he invented the true-crime genre.

That sensational essay is about a series of 1811 mass murders that rivaled those of Jack the Ripper for terrorizing London and all of England. There may have been mass murders before then, but primitive communications didn’t allow people to known about them.  In 1811, however, improved roads and the newly created mail-coach system allowed London’s 52 newspapers to travel all across England at an inexorable ten miles an hour. Within two days, all of England was paralyzed by the news. People were still talking about the killings 43 years later, in 1854, when MURDER AS A FINE ART occurs.

De Quincey is an ideal person to use as a main character in a thriller. In a way, he’s the father of modern private detectives. He invented the word “subconscious” and anticipated the theories of Freud by half a century. He inspired Edgar Allan Poe, who in turn inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create Sherlock Holmes.

I spent two years researching 1854 London, in the hope that readers would truly believe they were there. In addition, I read and reread De Quincey’s thousands of pages until I felt I was channeling him.

I finally knew that I’d grasped the details of Victorian England when I could tell how much a well-to-do woman’s clothes weighed: thirty-seven pounds because of ten yards of satin over a whale-teeth hoop that looked like a bird cage. It’s no wonder that women kept fainting.

It didn’t help that laudanum, a mixture of opium and brandy, was in every home, as common as aspirin is for us. People wouldn’t admit that they were addicts (the concept didn’t exist back then), which is why De Quincey’s CONFESSIONS OF AN ENGLISH OPIUM-EATER was so scandalous.  Opium and laudanum have a major role in the plot of MURDER AS A FINE ART.  As does murder, for De Quincey was an expert in it.

Murder As A Fine Art is on tour!  Click here to view the tour schedule. 

About David Morrell

David Morrell is a Canadian novelist from Kitchener, Ontario, who has been living in the United States for a number of years. He is best known for his debut 1972 novel First Blood, which would later become a successful film franchise starring Sylvester Stallone. More recently, he has been writing the Captain America comic books limited-series The Chosen.

For more information on David Morrell and his novels, please visit the official website

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book Review: Murder As A Fine Art by David Morrell



Thomas De Quincey, infamous for his memoir Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, is the major suspect in a series of ferocious mass murders identical to ones that terrorized London forty-three years earlier.

The blueprint for the killings seems to be De Quincey's essay "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts." Desperate to clear his name but crippled by opium addiction, De Quincey is aided by his devoted daughter Emily and a pair of determined Scotland Yard detectives.

In Murder as a Fine Art, David Morrell plucks De Quincey, Victorian London, and the Ratcliffe Highway murders from history. Fogbound streets become a battleground between a literary star and a brilliant murderer, whose lives are linked by secrets long buried but never forgotten.

Mulholland Books | May 7th, 2013 | 368 pages

My Review

4 Stars

Set in 1850s London following a gruesome multiple murder, David Morrell's latest novel, Murder As A Fine Art, is a fast-paced historical thriller that features English essayist Thomas De Quincey as a principal protagonist.  While De Quincey is best known for his memoir Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, it is his essay "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts" that serves as a foundation for this novel.  This essay describes in vivid detail the Ratcliffe Highway murders, a case that shocked England in the early 19th century.  Now, almost fifty years later, another multiple murder rocks London.  When the police recognize the remarkable similarities between the two cases they immediately seek out De Quincey for questioning.  But De Quincey's intimate knowledge of the Ratcliffe Highway murders make him a prime suspect in this latest case, and it is the hope of England's political masters that locking De Quincey up will quell the rising public panic caused by the murders.  But when additional murders are committed the police must combine their investigative skills with the keen insight of De Quincey in an effort to anticipate the murderer's next move and stop him before he strikes again. 

One of the greatest strengths of Murder As A Fine Art is its fabulous cast of characters.  Thomas De Quincey is a truly remarkable hero, and I enjoyed how Morrell portrayed him.  I also enjoyed how Morrell characterized De Quincey's daughter Emily, a young woman who is devoted to her father's welfare and who cares for all those she comes into contact with.  I especially liked how Emily was not afraid to challenge societal expectations.  Charged with the investigation into the multiple murders, London Police Detective Ryan and his assistant Constable Becker make a formidable team, but it is their interactions with De Quincey and his daughter that prove most memorable.  Even the villain proves to be a well-drawn, complex character.   The novel is also full of colourful secondary and tertiary characters, which include Home Secretary Lord Palmerston, physician John Snow, a group of prostitutes and several beggars.   I'm not sure what David Morrell's plans are for future novels, but I would love to read another book featuring these characters.  

Another strength of Murder As A Fine Art is its rich historical detail.  Morrell's narrative is enhanced by the inclusion of an abundance of information on Victorian England.  This information, which is seamlessly woven into the fabric of the narrative, helps to bring certain aspects of Victorian England vividly to life for the reader.   It is obvious that a great deal of research went into the writing of this novel and, as a result, it proves to be both highly entertaining and educational.  

I highly recommended Murder As A Fine Art to fans of historical thrillers and historical fiction set during the Victorian-era.   However, I do note that there are some quite graphic/gruesome scenes in this novel. 

Note: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher as part of David Morrell's virtual book tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Murder As A Fine Art is on tour!  Click here to view the tour schedule. 

About the Author

David Morrell is a Canadian novelist from Kitchener, Ontario, who has been living in the United States for a number of years. He is best known for his debut 1972 novel First Blood, which would later become a successful film franchise starring Sylvester Stallone. More recently, he has been writing the Captain America comic books limited-series The Chosen.

For more information on David Morrell and his novels, please visit the official website

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Book Review: Chronicle of the Mound Builders by Elle Marie


Archaeologist Dr. Angela Hunter discovers an ancient codex at a Mississippian Indian dig site in the St. Louis area. Knowing the Mississippians, or Mound Builders, had no written language, she is determined to solve the mystery of the 700-year-old, perfectly preserved codex.

In the early 1300’s, an Aztec family is torn apart. A judge rebelling against the Aztec tradition of human sacrifice is cursed and escapes his enemies with his 12-year-old son. They travel from the Gulf of Mexico up the Mississippi River to settle in the thriving community of Migaduha, modern-day Cahokia Mounds, Illinois.

Angela recognizes the symbols as Aztec pictograms and begins to translate the story. However, other forces also want the codex and will do anything to get it. Can she learn the secrets of the chronicle before the tragic events of the past are repeated today?

CreateSpace | October 29, 2012 | 416 pages

My Review

3.5 Stars

Chronicle of the Mound Builders, Elle Marie's first novel, is set primarily in what is now the state of Missouri in both the early 14th century and in the modern day.  While working on a Mississippian Indian archeological dig in the St. Louis area, Dr. Angela Hunter and her team discover a perfectly preserved 700-year old jar that contains a codex; a codex that could provide much needed information about the life and culture of the Mississippian Indians, also known as the Mound Builders, a people about which little is known.  Recognizing the importance of the find, Angela immediately sets out to translate the codex, which appears to be based on Aztec symbols even though the codex was found in an area far removed from the Aztec empire.  But Angela is not the only one with an interest in the ancient codex.   Unlike Angela, who views the codex as an important historical artifact, the others seeking the codex are doing so to promote their own ends and will stop at nothing to get their hands on it.

Running parallel to Angela's narrative is the story of Aztec judge Chipahua and his young son Tototl, who are forced to flee their home after being cursed by a powerful Aztec priest.  Seeking to get as far from their home as possible, Chipahua and Tototl make their way up the Mississippi river, eventually settling in the city of Migaduha where they are able to establish a new life for themselves.  Unfortunately, Chipahua and Tototl's peaceful existence comes to an abrupt end when the town in which they've settled finds itself at the mercy of forces beyond human control.   The codex tells their story. 

Overall I found Chronicle of the Mound Builders to be an entertaining read.  Both the modern day and ancient story lines are interesting and move along at a quick pace.  Although the novel features several different narratives, the flow from one narrative to another is smooth.  Marie also does a nice job of linking all the narratives together.  Although I do wish a few of the modern-day characters had been more fully fleshed out, I nevertheless found them engaging, especially Angela.  While I enjoyed the modern-day component of the narrative, the highlight of this novel for me was the story line featuring Chipahua and Tototl.  Having read very little historical fiction set in North America prior to the arrival of Europeans, I found Chipahua and Tototl's story fascinating, especially where it featured elements of Aztec and Mississippian culture and ways of life.  Not being familiar with the Mound Builders, one of the first things I did upon finishing the book was to look up information on them in an effort to find out more.   The only issue I had with the novel is that I had to stretch my imagination a little too far when it came to the conclusion of both the modern-day and historical story lines.  As such, while I still found the ending of the novel enjoyable, I would have preferred it to have been a little more plausible. 

Recommended to readers interested in archeology, Native American history and time slip novels. 

Note: I was provided with a copy of this novel as part of Elle Marie's virtual book tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.  


Chronicles of the Mound Builders is currently on tour.  Click here to check out the tour schedule.  

About the Author

Coming from a large family of readers, Elle Marie grew up with a love of reading. Her passion for reading led to a desire to write. After first publishing a nonfiction book, Living the Thin Life, she turned to fiction.

A visit to Cahokia Mounds sparked a fascination with the mysterious Mound Builders, about whom so little is known. What was their culture like? How did ordinary people live in the 14th century? What caused the civilization to vanish, seemingly overnight? She put her imagination to work and came up with a story line that put it all together. Extensive research enabled her to create a believable, engrossing world.

By day, she works in the information technology field at a large financial services firm. She is a graduate of the Missouri University of Science & Technology and lives in the St. Louis area with her husband. Chronicle of the Mound Builders is her first novel.

To learn more check out the official website by clicking here.  

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Book Review: A Murder at Rosamund's Gate by Susanna Calkins


In Susanna Calkins's atmospheric debut novel, a chambermaid must uncover a murderer in seventeenth-century plague-ridden London.

For Lucy Campion, a seventeenth-century English chambermaid serving in the household of the local magistrate, life is an endless repetition of polishing pewter, emptying chamber pots, and dealing with other household chores until a fellow servant is ruthlessly killed, and someone she loves is wrongly arrested for the crime. In a time where the accused are presumed guilty until proven innocent, lawyers aren't permitted to defend their clients, and--if the plague doesn't kill them first--public executions draw a large crowd of spectators, Lucy knows she may never see this person alive again. Unless, that is, she can identify the true murderer.

Determined to do just that, Lucy finds herself venturing out of her expected station and into raucous printers' shops, secretive gypsy camps, the foul streets of London, and even the bowels of Newgate prison on a trail that might lead her straight into the arms of the killer.

Minotaur Books | April 23, 2013 | 352 pages

My Review

4 Stars

Susanna Calkins debut novel, A Murder at Rosamund's Gate, is a historical mystery set in 17th London.  The novel's heroine, Lucy Campion, is a young chambermaid working in the home of a respected magistrate.  When a fellow servant and good friend is found murdered, and someone close to Lucy is identified as a leading suspect, Lucy sets out to undercover the truth.   Although she knows little about solving crimes, Lucy is determined to get to the bottom of her friend's murder and exonerate the main suspect.  Will Lucy be able to identify the real murderer before it is too late? 

There are many aspects of this novel that I enjoyed.  First and foremost is the novel's heroine, Lucy, who is characterized as an intelligent, inquisitive and resourceful young woman, one who isn't afraid to do whatever necessary to protect those she loves.  I loved Lucy's relationship with the magistrate and his family, who treated her as a valued member of their household.  I also enjoyed how Lucy slowly goes about searching for the real murderer.  What works so well with Lucy's quest is that Calkins never places her in improbable or unrealistic situations, which help to make Lucy's actions believable.  Supporting Lucy is a great cast of secondary characters, and I liked how Lucy interacted with each of them. 

In addition to having a great heroine, A Murder at Rosamund's Gate is also full of rich historical detail that provides the reader with a glimpse into life in 17th century London.  The reader becomes familiar with the daily life of a young servant, and also gains an appreciation for the 17th century English legal system.   One of the most interesting parts of the narrative was when the plague struck.  Calkins does a great job illustrating the fear that gripped the city as a whole and those directly affected by the plague, as well as the steps that needed to be taken to prevent its spread and to nurse those afflicted.   

The mystery itself slowly unfolds over the course of the novel.  While I had some inkling as to the identity of the real murderer well before the story's conclusion, this didn't diminish my enjoyment of the book.  It is my understanding that A Murder at Rosamund's Gate will be the first novel in a series featuring Lucy Campion.  I can't wait to read the next one. 

Recommended to fans of historical mysteries and general historical fiction set in England. 

Note: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Book Review & Giveaway (US Only): Cascade by Maryanne O'Hara


During the 1930s in a small town fighting for its survival, a conflicted new wife seeks to reconcile her artistic ambitions with the binding promises she has made.

Fans of Richard Russo, Amor Towles, Sebastian Barry, and Paula McLain will devour this transporting novel about the eternal tug between our duties and our desires, set during in New York City and New England during the Depression and New Deal eras.

It’s 1935, and Desdemona Hart Spaulding has sacrificed her plans to work as an artist in New York to care for her bankrupt, ailing father in Cascade, Massachusetts. When he dies, Dez finds herself caught in a marriage of convenience, bound to the promise she made to save her father’s Shakespeare Theater, even as her town may be flooded to create a reservoir for Boston. When she falls for artist Jacob Solomon, she sees a chance to escape and realize her New York ambitions, but is it morally possible to set herself free?

Penguin Books | April 30, 2013 (trade paperback) | 384 pages

My Review

4 Stars

Maryanne O'Hara's debut novel, Cascade, is a beautifully written tale of sacrifice, desire and trying to find one's place in the world.  Set in small town Cascade, Massachusetts during the Great Depression, Cascade is the story of Dez Spaulding, a newlywed who realizes too late that the life she has begun to carve out for herself, one chosen primarily to secure the well-being of her bankrupt father, is not the life she wants.  A former student of art with big dreams, Dez finds little satisfaction in her role as homemaker.  But it is not until the unexpected death of her father and the arrival of fellow artist Jacob Solomon in Cascade that Dez begins to question her chosen path.  When Cascade is identified as the frontrunner to be flooded to create a reservoir for Boston, Dez comes to view the possible destruction of the town as an opportunity to create a new life for herself.  While the town fights to stay alive, Dez is caught between her desire to follow her dreams and fulfilling her husband and society's expectations of her. 

One of the greatest strengths of Cascade is O'Hara's ability to bring small-town, Depression-era America to life.  While Dez's situation is secure due to her husband's profession as a pharmacist, many of Cascade's citizens are struggling to make ends meet and the hard-times have left the town a shadow of its former self.   I thought the characters to be well-drawn, particularly Dez, whose internal conflict is clearly evident.  While I didn't always agree with the choices Dez made, especially those that hurt other people, and I was often frustrated by her, she is a sympathetic character. In the 1930s, the opportunities afforded to women for a career and independence were few, and for this reason I can't really fault Dez for marrying Asa even though she wasn't in love with him.   Another aspect of this novel that I appreciated was the incorporation of historical detail that conveys to the reader the events taking place in Europe, events that would lead to the start World War II. 

While I liked this novel immensely, Cascade is not a book I would describe as an enjoyable read.  In fact, the strongest emotion this novel evoked from me was sadness - sadness for Cascade and its citizens, sadness for Dez and her husband, and sadness for Jacob.  

Recommended to all fans of historical fiction.  

Note: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

Cascade is currently on tour.  Click here to see the tour schedule. 


I'm pleased to offer a giveaway for one paperback copy of Cascade.   Giveaway details are as follows:

-  To enter, simply leave a comment below with your email address
-  The giveaway is open to US residents only
-  The giveaway will run until midnight on May 17th

Good Luck! 

About the Author

Maryanne O’Hara was the longtime associate fiction editor at the award-winning literary journal Ploughshares. She received her MFA from Emerson College fifteen years ago, and wrote short fiction that was widely published before committing to the long form. She lives on a river near Boston.

To find out more visit Maryanne's website:

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Book Review: The Roots of Betrayal by James Forrester


Your Choice. Your Faith. Your Fate.

1564: Catholic herald William Harley, known as Clarenceux, guards a highly dangerous document. It's a manuscript he'd rather not have—destruction and death have followed in its wake. But things get much worse when the document is stolen, and he plunges into a nightmare of suspicion, deception, and conspiracy. As England teeters on the brink of a bloody conflict, Clarenceux knows the fate of the country and countless lives hang in the balance. The roots of betrayal are deep and shocking, and the herald's journey toward the truth entails not just the discovery of clues and signs, but also of himself.

In this brilliant new Elizabethan conspiracy from the internationally acclaimed author of Sacred Treason, faith and fear stir up a powerful story of loyalty, lies, and secrets.

Sourcebooks | May 7th, 2013 | 448 pages

My Review

3.5 Stars 

The Roots of Betrayal is the second novel in James Forrester's Clarenceux trilogy, and picks up soon after the first novel in the series, Sacred Treason, ends.  Like the trilogy's first installment, The Roots of Betrayal centres around one man, William Harley, who serves Elizabeth I as herald Clarenceux King of Arms, and one document, a document containing a secret that, if revealed, would threaten the peace of the realm.  Charged by Sir William Cecil, Elizabeth I's principal secretary, with keeping the document safe, Clarenceux is shocked when it is stolen from his home, even more so when the evidence points to someone he trusts as the culprit.   Determined to get the document back at any cost, Clarenceux sets out to recover it.   Along the way he uncovers both truth and lies, and realizes that there is much more to the document's theft than he first believed.

The Roots of Betrayal is fast-paced and action-packed.  Many of the characters featured in Sacred Treason reappear here, including Sir William Cecil and Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth I's spymaster.  Although they don't appear often, one of my favourite aspects of this trilogy are the interactions that take place between the formidable Cecil and the suspicious Walsingham.  This book also introduces several new characters, the foremost of which is pirate captain Raw Carew.   Many of these characters are more colourful that the trilogy's regulars and add quite a bit of excitement to the story.  Most of Clarenceux's actions throughout the novel are driven by his desire to prevent conflict, even if they put him at odds with some of the realm's most powerful men.  I didn't always understand or agree with Clarenceux's decisions, though I acknowledge they ultimately led him to discover the extent of the betrayal against him.  Forrester does a good job of keeping the truth of the theft hidden until the very end of the novel, which helps to keep the reader turning the pages.   One of the novel's greatest strengths is Forrester's attention to historical detail, which results in a novel that creates a strong sense of both time and place.  This isn't surprising given James Forrester is the pen name of British historian Ian Mortimer.  While I enjoyed this novel overall, the frequency with which Clarenceux is able to get himself out of difficult situations, often while injured, stretches the bounds of plausibility.  I am nevertheless looking forward to reading the trilogy's conclusion, The Final Sacrament.  

Recommended to fans of historical thrillers and fiction set during the Elizabethan era.  Given that The Roots of Betrayal follows events that occurred in Sacred Treason I do, however, recommend readers interested in this book start at the beginning of the series.  

Note: I received a copy of this novel from Sourcebooks via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

About the Author

James Forrester is the pen name of acclaimed British historian Ian Mortimer, author of nonfiction works including The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England (a Sunday Times bestseller) and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. As Forrester, he is the author of Sacred Treason (Sourcebooks, October 2012), the first novel in the Clarenceaux trilogy. The last installment, The Final Sacrament, will be published in the US in September 2013. Website: Twitter: @IanJamesFM
The Roots of Betrayal is on tour.  Check the links below for additional reviews and some giveaway opportunities:

May 1 - Passages to the Past
May 2 - Devourer of Books
May 6 - Confessions of an Avid Reader
May 8 - Radiant Light
May 9 - Historical Boys
May 10 - Bags Books and Bon Jovi
May 12 – The Girdle of Melian
May 13 - Psychotic State Book Reviews
May 14 - The Book Reading Gals
May 15 - Reading Reality
May 16 - Broken Teepee
May 17 - Booksie's Blog
May 20 - Found Not Lost
May 21 - Turning the Pages
May 23 - Tanzanite's Castle Full of Books

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Friday, May 3, 2013

Book Review: Seduction by M.J. Rose


From the author of The Book of Lost Fragrances comes a haunting novel about a grieving woman who discovers the lost journal of novelist Victor Hugo, awakening a mystery that spans centuries.

In 1843, novelist Victor Hugo’s beloved nineteen-year-old daughter drowned. Ten years later, Hugo began participating in hundreds of séances to reestablish contact with her. In the process, he claimed to have communed with the likes of Plato, Galileo, Shakespeare, Dante, Jesus—and even the Devil himself. Hugo’s transcriptions of these conversations have all been published. Or so it was believed.

Recovering from her own losses, mythologist Jac L’Etoile arrives on the Isle of Jersey—where Hugo conducted the séances—hoping to uncover a secret about the island’s Celtic roots. But the man who’s invited her there, a troubled soul named Theo Gaspard, has hopes she’ll help him discover something quite different—Hugo’s lost conversations with someone called the Shadow of the Sepulcher.

What follows is an intricately plotted and atmospheric tale of suspense with a spellbinding ghost story at its heart, by one of America’s most gifted and imaginative novelists.

Atria Books | May 7, 2013 | 384 pages

My Review

4 Stars

Seduction, the latest novel in M.J. Rose's Reincarnationist series, is set on the Isle of Jersey in the modern-day, the 1850s, and just before Roman expansion into Great Britain.  The modern-day storyline focuses on Jac L'Etoile, a mythologist who seeks to discover the origins of myths, while the 1850s storyline follows French novelist Victor Hugo while he was in exile on Jersey, a period in which he continued to mourn the death of his beloved eldest daughter and began to engage in seances in the hopes of contacting her.   The pre-Roman era of the narrative focuses on the life of a Celtic priest. 

While recovering from the loss of the one man she doesn't think she can live without, Jac is asked by a childhood friend, Theo Gaspard, to travel to Jersey to help him discover and explore Celtic ruins.  While she is advised against going, the opportunity to research the Celts is one Jac simply cannot pass up.   When she arrives, however, Theo informs Jac that there is more to his invitation than he originally lead her to believe, as it is his hope to locate an unknown journal of Victor Hugo's that he believes will provide details on some of Hugo's experiences with spiritualism.  Intrigued by the quest, Jac agrees to join his search.   But the quest proves to be more than Jac bargained for, as she finds herself experiencing powerful hallucinations that take her back to Jersey during the Celtic period.  

Much like the previous novels I've read by M.J. Rose, Seduction is fast-paced and easy to read.  Although this novel features multiple narratives and is set in different time periods, Rose has crafted the story in such a way that it is easy to follow.  Each narrative is unique and offers something interesting for readers, and I felt Rose did a nice job of tying each of the story lines together.   As a result, I didn't find myself preferring any one narrative over another, I found them all equally compelling.   One of the things I like best about Rose's novels are her descriptions, which bring sights and smells vividly to life for the reader.   Although it helps to have read Rose's previous release, The Book of Lost Fragrances, before reading this one, it isn't necessary and Seduction can be read as a stand alone novel.    

Recommended to fans of thrillers with a paranormal twist, as well as to readers who have enjoyed M.J. Rose's earlier novels.

Note: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher as part of M.J. Rose's virtual book tour in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

Seduction is currently on tour.  Click here to check out the tour schedule.  

About the Author

M.J. Rose is the international best selling author of eleven novels and two non-fiction books on marketing. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in many magazines and reviews including Oprah Magazine. She has been featured in the New York Times, Newsweek, Time, USA Today and on the Today Show, and NPR radio.  Rose graduated from Syracuse University, spent the '80s in advertising, has a commercial in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and since 2005 has run the first marketing company for authors -  The television series PAST LIFE, was based on Rose's novels in the Renincarnationist series. She is one of the founding board members of International Thriller Writers and runs the blog- Buzz, Balls & Hype.  She is also the co-founder of and

Rose lives in CT with her husband the musician and composer, Doug Scofield, and their very spoiled and often photographed dog, Winka.

For more information on M.J. Rose and her novels, please visit her WEBSITE. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Confessions of an Avid Reader has a New Look!

As you've probably noticed, Confessions of an Avid Reader has a new look.  What do you think?  I'm super happy with it.   

I'd just like to pass along a BIG thank you to Jennisa at Pixel Me Perfect for all the work she did to put this new look together for me.  

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Book Review: The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway


In Bee Ridgway’s wonderfully imaginative debut novel, a man and a woman travel through time in a quest to bring down a secret society that controls the past and, thus, the future.

“You are now a member of the Guild. There is no return.” Two hundred years after he was about to die on a Napoleonic battlefield, Nick Falcott, soldier and aristocrat, wakes up in a hospital bed in modern London. The Guild, an entity that controls time travel, showers him with life's advantages. But Nick yearns for home and for one brown-eyed girl, lost now down the centuries. Then the Guild asks him to break its own rule. It needs Nick to go back to 1815 to fight the Guild’s enemies and to find something called the Talisman.

In 1815, Julia Percy mourns the death of her beloved grandfather, an earl who could play with time. On his deathbed he whispers in her ear: “Pretend!” Pretend what? When Nick returns home as if from the dead, older than he should be and battle scarred, Julia begins to suspect that her very life depends upon the secrets Grandfather never told her. Soon enough Julia and Nick are caught up in an adventure that stretches up and down the river of time. As their knowledge of the Guild and their feelings for each other grow, the fate of the future itself is hanging in the balance.

Dutton Adult | April 23, 2013 | 464 pages

My Review

4.5 Stars

The River of No Return, Bee Ridgway's remarkable debut novel, is a thoroughly enjoyable tale of time travel, adventure and romance.   Seeking to escape the familial responsibilities thrust upon him after the unexpected death of his father, English Marquess Nick Falcott joins the Army and is sent to the continent to help defeat Napoleon's forces.  While in Spain Nick finds himself on the wrong end of a French soldier's weapon and is faced with certain death.  Rather than dying, however, Nick wakes up in London 200 years into the future, where he is recruited by the Guild, an ultra-secret time travel organization.  Told that it is impossible to ever go back, Nick settles into a new life in the United States.  After more than a decade in the 21st century, however, Nick is summoned to Guild headquarters in London.  The Guild needs Nick's help to stop the activities of a rogue time travel group.  There is only one catch.  In order to carry out the Guild's wishes Nick must do something he was told wasn't possible - he must travel back in time to 1815 England.     

Meanwhile, back in 1815, Julia Percy, mourning the loss of her grandfather and trying to avoid his tyrannical and obsessive heir, discovers she has the ability to manipulate time, a gift she had believed belonged to her grandfather.   When Nick, whose family estate lies next to Julia's, returns home seemingly from the dead, he and Julia find themselves increasingly drawn to one another.   But despite her growing feelings for Nick, Julia quickly realizes that she must keep her time manipulation abilities from him.  Nick, on the other hand, becomes drawn into Guild intrigues and learns that there may be more to the Guild than he has been lead to believe.  The only thing he knows for sure is that the very future may be in jeopardy and that he must do what he can to get to the bottom of things before it is too late.

The River of No Return is the type of novel that reinforces why I love to read.   With a fabulous cast of characters, an original and imaginative storyline and eloquent prose, Bee Ridgway has created a memorable work of fiction that is a delight to read.   Nick is the type of hero who is easy for readers to like, while Julia is the type of heroine with whom readers can empathize.  Together they make a formidable pair.   The supporting characters are well drawn, interesting and, most importantly, entertaining.   The story itself moves at steady pace, never flagging, and contains some interesting and unexpected twists.   This is a book not to be missed.   I can't wait to hear more from Bee Ridgway.

Note: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.