Friday, July 26, 2013

Book Review: The Ming Storytellers by Laura Rahme


It is the 15th Century. At the dawn of the Ming Dynasty, three women's path will cross.  And of their journey, a tale will be born. An imperial concubine, a Persian traveler, and a mysterious storyteller.  Three women: One story.

This is BEIJING. A city seething with mystery and royal intrigue.  Once a palace orphan, the wilful Min Li has only ever sought to please, even if that means pleasing Emperor Zhu Di.  Now a powerful concubine, Min Li unearths a terrible secret concealed within the walls of Beijing's Imperial city. Driven to despair, she seeks help from her lover, Admiral Zheng He. But this will spark a chain of events that even sets Beijing's palace on fire. Min Li's fate is sealed but her true enemy is not who she thinks.

The Ming Storytellers is a historical tale of 15th century China that sweeps across the palaces of Nanjing and Beijing into the mountainous villages of Yunnan, where a mysterious shaman holds the key to a woman's destiny.

Across the oceans, from the bustling bazaars of Southern India to the lush shores of Zanzibar, nothing is quite what it seems.

For the eyes and ears of the Ming Emperor are ever near.

Createspace | January 1, 2013 | 634 pages

My Review

4 Stars

Set in 15th century China in the early days of the Ming Dynasty, The Ming Storytellers is a beautifully rendered tale of love and loss, hope and despair.  While this novel features the stories of three incredible woman -- Min Li, an imperial concubine, Shahrzad, a Persian traveller, and Jun, a seamstress and storyteller -- it is Min Li who features most prominently and is the heart of this novel.  But this is also a novel of Admiral Zheng He, one of China's greatest explorers.   

Having little knowledge of Chinese imperial history prior to reading this book, I was fascinated by the history imparted throughout the story.  Not only does The Ming Storytellers include key historical events such as the Ming Fleet's Sixth Expedition, but it also clearly conveys the politics, and ways of life and customs of the era.  One of this novel's greatest strengths is Rahme's ability to seamlessly weave this history into the fabric of her narrative.  As a result, even though there is a tremendous amount of historical detail found in this novel, it never feels as if it has just been dumped into the text.  I particularly enjoyed learning about life within the Imperial Palace, which had a complex, hierarchical administration run by eunuchs, as well as of the Ming Fleet's expedition across the Indian Ocean. 

Even though The Ming Storytellers is well over 600 pages, the book doesn't feel long.  The story moves along quickly, and there are never any lulls.  The narrative's focus shifts back and forth between the various principal characters, which I found helped to maintain my interest.  Rahme's prose is lovely, and her descriptions eloquent, helping to create a vivid sense of place.  While there are times when the reader might wonder how all the various story lines connect, Rahme brings them all together nicely in the end.  

While I enjoyed The Ming Storytellers immensely, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that it contains some minor editorial and formatting issues -- at least my e-copy does.  While not significant enough to take anything away from the story itself, they are noticeable.  Those who frequently read electronic advance copies, which I've found often have similar issues, probably won't be all that bothered by this.  But readers used to perfectly formatted e-books might be a little put off, at least initially.   I hope readers don't let these minor issues put them off the book as I think The Ming Storytellers is a historical novel well worth reading. 

Highly recommended to historical fiction fans interested in learning more about China during the Ming Dynasty. 

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

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Mary and Elizabeth: Sisters and Rivals - Guest Post by Author C.W. Gortner

I'm pleased to welcome author C.W. Gortner, one of my favourite historical novelists, to Confessions of an Avid Reader today with a guest post about the rivalry between royal Tudor sisters Mary and Elizabeth.   C.W. is currently touring the blogosphere to promote his latest release, The Tudor Conspiracy (click here to check out the tour schedule).   Without further ado, I'll pass the floor to C.W. 


There is something fascinating, and disturbing, about family members who turn on one another. The Tudor dynasty is no exception. Though Henry VIII did not sire many children, considering how often he wed, history has perhaps no sisters more famous for their rivalry than his two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth.

Born of the king’s marriages to his first and second wives, respectively, Mary and Elizabeth were both declared bastards in turn after Henry divorced Mary’s mother, Catherine of Aragon, and had Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, beheaded. The rivalry between the two mothers, each determined to hold onto their crown and defend their child, set the stage for a legacy of mistrust between the daughters, who were as different in temperament as any sisters could be.
The eldest by seventeen years, Mary went from an adored childhood to a horrifying adolescence in which she saw her beloved mother supplanted by another. Humiliated and relegated to the status of a servant in her baby sister Elizabeth’s household, the scars of Mary’s teenage years can’t be underestimated.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, was barely three when her mother died and she was made illegitimate. A famous quip from this time is attributed to her when informed of her new status: “How is that yesterday I was Princess Elizabeth and today only Lady Elizabeth?” Young as she was, Elizabeth had a keen grasp of her situation. She grew into womanhood surrounded by danger and became adept at the rules of survival, aware that one misstep could lead to her doom, her mother’s example always before her.

Both sisters understood the perils intrinsic to royal life, but while Elizabeth learned to play the cards dealt to her, Mary remained steadfast in her right to stand above the crowd. They both had courage but their experiences couldn’t have been more disparate. Elizabeth was born into, and raised, in the Protestant Faith; like their brother Edward, she embraced it. Mary resisted, both from a deep-seated belief inculcated in her as by the rigidity of her own character, which was not given to change even when circumstances called for it. In the end, whatever rapprochement the sisters found as outsiders uncertain of their place, denigrated into savage rivalry when Mary became queen against all odds and they found themselves pitted against each other. 

Mary could not forgive the insults tendered to her by Anne Boleyn and in time, she came to see Elizabeth as the very incarnation of her late mother. In turn, Elizabeth began to recognize the stony threat that Mary’s hatred posed to her and her fragile position as the sole hope for the Protestant cause in England. Their pasts had made them who they were; and their struggle for supremacy would divide the country, sisters and rivals unto death.

This rivalry is the core of my new novel, THE TUDOR CONSPIRACY. Thank you for spending this time with me. To find out more about me and my books, please visit me at:

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Book Review: The Tudor Conspiracy by C.W. Gortner


Hunted by a shadowy foe in Bloody Mary’s court, Brendan Prescott plunges into London’s treacherous underworld to unravel a dark conspiracy that could make Elizabeth queen—or send her to her death in C.W. Gortner's The Tudor Conspiracy

England, 1553: Harsh winter encroaches upon the realm. Mary Tudor has become queen to popular acclaim and her enemies are imprisoned in the Tower. But when she’s betrothed to Philip, Catholic prince of Spain, putting her Protestant subjects in peril, rumors of a plot to depose her swirl around the one person whom many consider to be England’s heir and only hope—the
queen’s half-sister, Princess Elizabeth.

Haunted by his past, Brendan Prescott lives far from the intrigues of court. But his time of refuge comes to an end when his foe and mentor, the spymaster Cecil, brings him disquieting news that sends him on a dangerous mission. Elizabeth is held captive at court, the target of the Spanish ambassador, who seeks her demise. Obliged to return to the palace where he almost lost his life, Brendan finds himself working as a double-agent for Queen Mary herself, who orders Brendan to secure proof that will be his cherished Elizabeth’s undoing.

Plunged into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a mysterious opponent who hides a terrifying secret, Brendan races against time to retrieve a cache of the princess’s private letters, even as he begins to realize that in this dark world of betrayal and deceit, where power is supreme and sister can turn against sister, nothing—and no one—is what it seems.

St. Martin's Griffin | July 16, 2013 | 352 pages (United States and Canada)
Hodder & Stoughton | July 18, 2013 | 352 pages (United Kingdom)

My Review

4.5 Stars

Full of rich detail that helps to bring the Tudor period to life, The Tudor Conspiracy, the second Spymaster Chronicles novel, illustrates why C.W. Gortner is one of the finest historical novelists writing today.   First introduced in The Tudor Secret, Brendan Prescott, trusted friend to Princess Elizabeth, once again takes centre stage in this novel.  Living away from court after his previous adventures there almost cost him his life, Brendan is called upon by William Cecil to insinuate himself back into court life in order to investigate a possible plot by the Spanish ambassador to discredit Elizabeth.   Operating under the name Daniel Beecham, Brendan isn't long at court before he is called upon by Queen Mary to uncover evidence of Elizabeth's plotting.  Determined to protect Elizabeth from the scheme to bring her down, Brendan quickly realizes that there is much more to the plot than meets the eye, and he must act quickly if he hopes to save Elizabeth from her very determined foes. 

Much like Gortner's previous novels, The Tudor Conspiracy contains all the elements I look for in great historical fiction.   Not only is the book filled with the right amount of historical detail needed to create a strong sense of both time and place, it is evident that historical accuracy is important to Gortner, who takes liberties only where necessary to advance his story.  Basing the characters of both Princess Elizabeth and Queen Mary on what is known of their personalities, Gortner does a commendable job of bringing both of these formidable women to life.  I especially enjoyed Gortner's portrayal of Mary.   The novel's hero, Brendan Prescott, is well-drawn and, even though he has his faults, easy to root for.   The narrative itself moves quickly, is well-written, and keeps the reader turning the pages.   The mystery at the heart of the story is both interesting and, given the intrigues that were part of life in the Tudor court, entirely plausible.   Although The Tudor Conspiracy is the second novel in a series, I think it can be read as a standalone given Gortner does a good job infusing necessary background into the story.   Nevertheless, given I'm not the type of reader who likes reading series out of order, I do recommend starting with The Tudor Secret.   I'm looking forward to finding out what Brendan Prescott gets up to next.

Recommended to historical fiction enthusiasts who enjoy historical thrillers, as well as those who like novels set during the Tudor era. 

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

The Tudor Conspiracy is currently on tour!  Click here to check out the tour schedule. 

About the Author

C.W. Gortner holds an MFA in Writing, with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies. Raised in Spain and half Spanish by birth, he currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

He welcomes readers and is always available for reader group chats. Please visit him at for more information.  You can also follow Christopher on Facebook and Twitter.

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Book Talk: Blogging Edition

It's time for Book Talk, a (sometimes) weekly feature designed to generate discussion on random book-related issues and topics.   Rather than host a specific topic this week, I thought I would focus the discussion on a couple of general blogging issues I've been thinking about lately. 

Blog Comments:

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed the number of comments they receive on their blogs to have fallen off lately?  It seems that no matter what the topic, be it general discussion, a giveaway, or a review, comments have been few.   I recognize that bloggers have lives outside of the blogosphere, and that as it is the summer here in the northern hemisphere people are busier than usual (myself included), but I admit that I can't help but feel a little disappointed when my posts receive few (if any) comments.  Does anyone else feel this way?

I guess this also leads to the question, why do you or do you not leave comments on posts?  I generally leave comments on reviews for books I've read or want to read, and love participating in general book-related discussions.  However, I tend not to comment if a book or discussion topic is of little interest to me.  I also go through periods where I'm just too busy to visit other blogs and leave comments (as I'm quite sure many other bloggers do too), and I always feel bad about this, especially if other bloggers have stopped by to visit my posts. 

Review Rut:

So, I read this book a few months back that I enjoyed.  I received the book for review and want to share my thoughts on it with others.  The problem?  Other than noting that I enjoyed the novel I can't think of much else to say and, as a result, my review still isn't written.  Do you ever find yourself at a loss for words when it comes to reviewing novels?   How do you overcome this?  I think I'll end up writing a mini-review.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on one or both of these topics.  

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book Review: Gracianna by Trini Amador


The gripping story of Gracianna--a French-Basque girl forced to make impossible decisions after being recruited into the French Resistance in Nazi-occupied Paris.

Gracianna is inspired by true events in the life of Trini Amador's great-grandmother, Gracianna Lasaga. As an adult, Amador was haunted by the vivid memory of finding a loaded German Luger tucked away in a nightstand while wandering his great-grandmother's home in Southern California. He was only four years old at the time, but the memory remained and he knew he had to explore the story behind the gun.

Decades later, Amador would delve into the remarkable odyssey of his Gracianna's past, a road that led him to an incredible surprise. In Gracianna, Amador weaves fact and fiction to tell his great-grandmother's story.

Gracianna bravely sets off to Paris in the early 1940s--on her way to America, she hopes--but is soon swept into the escalation of the war and the Nazi occupation of Paris. After chilling life-and-death struggles, she discovers that her missing sister has surfaced as a laborer in Auschwitz. When she finds an opportunity to fight back against the Nazis to try to free her sister, she takes it--even if it means using lethal force.

As Amador tells the imagined story of how his great-grandmother risked it all, he delivers richly drawn characters and a heart-wrenching page-turner that readers won't soon forget.

Greenleaf Book Group Press | July 23, 2013 | 296 pages

My Review

4 Stars

Trini Amador's debut novel, Gracianna, is a fictionalized account of the life of his great-grandmother, Gracianna Lasaga.   The writing of the book was inspired by Amador's quest to discover the story behind the German Luger (gun) he found at Gracianna's home when he was child.   The novel opens with a young Gracianna growing up in Basque country during the 1930s.  Although she loves her home, Gracianna dreams of moving to the United States.  In an effort to earn enough money for her passage, Gracianna moves to Paris to work.  While she quickly finds a job and settles into her Parisian life, Europe has once again become embroiled in war, and it isn't long after Gracianna arrives that Paris becomes occupied by German forces.  Although she arrives in Paris alone, Gracianna is soon joined by her childhood friend and romantic interest, Juan, and then by her younger sister, Constance.   While Gracianna still hopes to move to the United States, her plans are put on hold when Constance is taken prisoner and sent to Auschwitz.   Faced with the possibility of losing her sister forever, Gracianna vows to do whatever is necessary to secure Constance's release.

There are many elements of Gracianna that make it an absorbing read, not the least of which is Gracianna herself.   Amador depicts his great-grandmother as a strong, determined woman, one who is willing to fight for what she believes in, even if it puts her own life in jeopardy in the process.  As such, Gracianna is a character who many readers will be unable to forget.   Another aspect of this novel that I liked was the incorporation of the Basque culture and way of life.   While Basque country itself is only featured in the early part of the novel, Gracianna never once forgets who she is and where she comes from, a fact that is reflected throughout the story.   Although Gracianna serves as the focal point of the book, her sister Constance's imprisonment in Auschwitz also features prominently and I thought Amador did a good job of portraying Constance's struggle to stay alive.  Lastly, I enjoyed how Juan and Gracianna's relationship developed over the course of the novel, and how Juan was a constant source of unwavering support to Gracianna even if it meant he had to put his own dreams on hold.  

Although I really enjoyed Gracianna, I did struggle a bit with my rating.  Initially I had given the book a slightly lower rating than the four stars I finally settled on, mainly due to the fact that I had a few minor issues with some of the book's mechanics.  Upon reflection, however, I came to realize that these minor issues had little if any impact on my appreciation for the story itself, which took no time for me to become completely captivated by.  

Gracianna is recommended to historical fiction enthusiasts who enjoy novels set during World War II, as well as to readers who like novels featuring strong female heroines.

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

Gracianna is currently on tour with Historical Fiction Book Tours.  Click here to check out the tour schedule. 

About the Author 

Trini Amador vividly remembers the day he found a loaded German Luger tucked away in a nightstand while wandering through his great-grandmother’s home in Southern California. He was only four years old at the time, but the memory remained and he knew he had to explore the story behind the gun. This experience sparked a journey towards Gracianna, Amador’s debut novel, inspired by true events and weaving reality with imagination. It's a tale drawing from real-life family experiences.

Mr. Amador is a traveled global marketing "insighter.” He is a sought-after guru teaching multinational brand marketers to understand how customer and consumer segments behave based on their needs, values, motivations, feeling and values. He has trained over five thousand brand marketers on how to grow brands in over 20 countries in the last 15 years. His counseling has been valued at global brands including General Electric, Microsoft, AT&T, Yahoo!, Sun Microsystems, Google, Jack Daniel’s, The J.M. Smucker Co., DuPont, Mattel, and Rodale, Inc..

Amador is also a founding partner with his wife and children of Gracianna Winery, an award-winning winery located in Healdsburg, California. The winery also pays tribute to the Amador Family’s maternal grandmother, Gracianna Lasaga. Her message of being thankful lives on through them. The Gracianna winery strives to keep Gracianna’s gratitude alive through their wine. Learn more at:, like Gracianna Winery on Facebook or follow them on Twitter @GraciannaWinery.

Amador resides in Sonoma County with his family.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book Review: Letters From Skye by Jessica Brockmole


A sweeping story told in letters, spanning two continents and two world wars, Jessica Brockmole’s atmospheric debut novel captures the indelible ways that people fall in love, and celebrates the power of the written word to stir the heart.

March 1912: Twenty-four-year-old Elspeth Dunn, a published poet, has never seen the world beyond her home on Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye. So she is astonished when her first fan letter arrives, from a college student, David Graham, in far-away America. As the two strike up a correspondence—sharing their favorite books, wildest hopes, and deepest secrets—their exchanges blossom into friendship, and eventually into love. But as World War I engulfs Europe and David volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front, Elspeth can only wait for him on Skye, hoping he’ll survive.

June 1940: At the start of World War II, Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, has fallen for a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Her mother warns her against seeking love in wartime, an admonition Margaret doesn’t understand. Then, after a bomb rocks Elspeth’s house, and letters that were hidden in a wall come raining down, Elspeth disappears. Only a single letter remains as a clue to Elspeth’s whereabouts. As Margaret sets out to discover where her mother has gone, she must also face the truth of what happened to her family long ago.

Ballantine Books | July 9th, 2013 | 304 pages

My Review

4.5 Stars

Letters From Skye, Jessica Brockmole's debut novel, is a beautifully written love story.  It is told through a series of letters that span World Wars One and Two.  The book opens on Scotland's beautiful but isolated Isle of Skye, where young poet Elspeth Dunn has just received her first letter from a fan, American medical student David Graham.   David's letter turns out to be the first of many exchanged between the two.  Although they start off as friends, as their correspondence continues Elspeth and David's relationship develops into something much deeper.  Although separated first by an ocean, and then by a war, Elspeth and David's love remains constant.  But David's involvement in the war, as an ambulance driver in France, puts him directly in harm's way, and Elspeth can only hope that her love is strong enough to keep him safe.  

Interspersed with Elspeth and David's tale is that of Margaret Dunn's, Elspeth's daughter, who, at the start of the Second World War, has fallen for her childhood friend, Paul.  But Paul is a pilot in the Royal Air Force, and Elspeth cautions her daughter about becoming involved with someone who must leave for the war.  At first Margaret doesn't understand her mother's reluctance, but when a German bomb hits Elspeth's home, and Elspeth disappears shortly thereafter, the only sign Margaret has as to her mother's whereabouts is an old letter.  Armed with just this one letter, Margaret sets out not only to find her mother, but also to uncover the truth about Elspeth's early life.   

I don't usually gush over books, but Letters From Skye will definitely make my list of favourites this year.  I was captivated by the characters and their stories right from the opening pages, and loved that the entire novel was told through a series of letters.  Elspeth and David, whose every hope, dream and disappointment is successfully conveyed to the reader, felt very real to me and nothing about their love story felt contrived.  Each letter transitions well from one to the next, and it is always clear who the author and intended recipient is.  Although not the only setting in the novel, the Isle of Skye was my clear favourite.   Jessica Brockmole effectively captures Skye's isolation and its ruggedness, as well clearly conveys the hardiness of its people.  Brockmole also does a good job of incorporating everyday aspects of life into this novel.  As a result, Letters From Skye gives the reader a very strong sense of time.  I'm very much looking forward to reading more from Jessica Brockmole. 

I highly recommend Letters From Skye to all historical fiction fans. 

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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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Giveaway Winner: She Rises by Kate Worsley

I'm pleased to announce that the winner of She Rises by Kate Worsley, selected using, is:


Congratulations, Kimberlee!  I've sent you an email to advise you of the win.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to host this giveaway.

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Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Review: Astor Place Vintage by Stephanie Lehmann


Amanda Rosenbloom, proprietor of Astor Place Vintage, thinks she's on just another call to appraise and possibly purchase clothing from a wealthy, elderly woman. But after discovering a journal sewn into a fur muff, Amanda gets much more than she anticipated. The pages of the journal reveal the life of Olive Westcott, a young woman who had moved to Manhattan in 1907. Olive was set on pursuing a career as a department store buyer in an era when Victorian ideas, limiting a woman's sphere to marriage and motherhood, were only beginning to give way to modern ways of thinking.  As Amanda reads the journal, her life begins to unravel until she can no longer ignore this voice from the past. Despite being separated by one hundred years, Amanda finds she's connected to Olive in ways neither could have imagined.

Simon & Shuster |  June 11, 2013 |  416 pages

My Review

4 Stars

Stephanie Lehmann's latest novel, Astor Place Vintage, is a dual time narrative set in New York City in both the modern-day and the early 20th century.  When vintage store owner Amanda Rosenbloom agrees to purchase clothing from a wealthy client, she has no idea that her latest acquisitions will yield more than just dresses and skirts.  For Amanda's purchase also includes an old diary that she finds sewn into the lining of an old fur muff.  The diary was written by Olive Westcott, a young woman who lived in New York City at the turn of the 20th century.  Intrigued by Olive's story, Amanda quickly becomes lost in the pages of the diary.  As Amanda learns more about Olive's life and her struggles to achieve independence in a society where women are still expected to conform to strict social conventions, she comes to realize that she is at a crossroads in her own life.   This realization forces Amanda to confront some of her life choices -- choices that she knows are limiting her future.

I'm a sucker for dual time narratives, and Astor Place Vintage didn't disappoint.  Alternating between Amanda and Olive's stories, Lehmann's characters are well-developed and engaging.  While I initially found Olive's narrative to be the more intriguing of the two, by the end of the novel I had become equally enthralled by Amanda's story.  While I can't condone some of the choices Amanda has made, I ultimately found her to be a sympathetic character, and I very much wanted her to take charge of her own destiny.  Olive is portrayed as an intelligent and wholly capable young woman, one who is determined to attain her dream of becoming a department store buyer even though the odds seem to be against her.  Readers will undoubtedly find Olive's story to be a compelling one.

One of my favourite aspects of Astor Place Vintage is the social history that it recounts.  Through Olive, the reader gains an appreciation of the daily life of single, working class women in New York City in the early 20th century, as well as for the workings of a large department store.   It is also through Olive that the reader becomes aware of some of the more restrictive societal rules and expectations placed on women.  For example, were you aware that reputable places of accommodation (e.g., hotels and apartment rentals) would not permit unescorted women to stay, no matter what their circumstances?   Setting also plays a prominent role in this novel, and I think Stephanie Lehmann does a fabulous job bringing New York City of both yesterday and today to life. 

Well-written with engaging characters and story lines, Astor Place Vintage is recommended to fans of dual time narratives, historical fiction enthusiasts interested in the early 20th century, and to readers who enjoy novels featuring strong female protagonists. 

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

Astor Place Vintage is currently on tour!  Click here to check out the tour schedule.  

About the Author
Stephanie Lehmann received her B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and an M.A. In English from New York University. She has taught novel writing at Mediabistro and online at, where her essays have been published. Like Olive and Amanda, she lives in New York City.

For more information, please visit and  You can follow Stephanie on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and tumblr.

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Friday, July 5, 2013

2013 Mid-Year Update

I can hardly believe we are already halfway through 2013! 

Now that we are at the year's halfway point I thought it was high time I provided an update on my progress towards the achievement of my 2013 reading goals and challenges.

Reading Goals:

My goal for this year is to read 85 books.   With 48 books read to date I'm happy to report that I'm on track to meet this goal. Yay me!

Of the 48 books I've read so far, here are my favourites (click on the titles to read my review):
Another one of my goals is to read more books outside of my comfort zone.   I can't say I've been very successful with this one, given that my genre of choice is historical fiction and most of the books I've read so far in 2013 fall within this genre.   That said, I have read a few historical novels that feature subjects I don't normally read about and for this reason, even though they fall within my most read genre, I consider them outside of my comfort zone. 

Challenge Update:

I signed up to participate in 5 reading challenges this year:

The 2013 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.  This wasn't really much of a challenge for me since so many of the novels I read are historical fiction.   I selected the Ancient History challenge level, which requires that I read 25 works of historical fiction over the course of the year.   I've achieved this one already, as 45 of the 48 books I've read so far this year are historical fiction novels (click here to see the books I've read for this challenge).

The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013.   I joined this challenge to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, one of my all-time favourite novels.   I joined at the neophyte level, which means I have to read or watch 4 Pride and Prejudice-related books or movies during 2013 (click here to see what I've selected to read and watch).  So far I've not made any progress towards achieving this goal, but I have half the year left to complete this challenge so I'm not worried.

2013 Book Bingo Challenge.   This challenge takes the form of a BINGO game.   I'm doing well on this one, as I've already achieved Bingo twice :-)  Click here to check out my progress.  

2013 European Reading Challenge.  The purpose of this challenge is to read books set in different European countries.  My goal was to read at least one book in five different countries.   I've achieved this.   Click here to see the countries I've visited through fiction. 

2013 TBR Pile Challenge.  I joined this challenge because I have a massive TBR pile that I need to start tackling.  The rules are simple: participants must read 12 books that have been on their TBR pile for at least a year.  The catch?  The books had to be identified prior to the start of 2013.   I selected my 12 and figured this would be an easy challenge to achieve (click here to see the 12 books I've committed to reading).  Guess what?  I've been so busy reading novels I've received for review that I've barely touched my TBR pile.   As a result, I've yet to read one book from my challenge list.  At this point I don't think I'll achieve this one :-(   

How are you doing on your reading goals and challenges so far this year?

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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Book Review: Royal Mistress by Anne Easter Smith


Jane Lambert, the quick-witted and alluring daughter of a silk merchant, is twenty-two and still unmarried. When Jane’s father finally finds her a match, she’s married off to the dull, older silk merchant William Shore. Marriage doesn’t stop Jane from flirtation, however, and when the king’s chamberlain, Will Hastings, comes to her husband’s shop, Will knows King Edward will find her irresistible.

Edward IV has everything: power, majestic bearing, superior military leadership, a sensual nature, and charisma. And with Jane as his mistress, he also finds true happiness. But when his hedonistic tendencies get in the way of being the strong leader England needs, his life, as well as those of Jane and Will Hastings, hangs in the balance. Jane must rely on her talents to survive as the new monarch, Richard III, bent on reforming his brother’s licentious court, ascends the throne.

This dramatic tale has been an inspiration to poets and playwrights for five hundred years, and, as told through the unique perspective of a woman plucked from obscurity and thrust into a life of notoriety, Royal Mistress is sure to enthrall today’s historical fiction lovers as well.

Touchstone | May 7, 2013 | 512 pages

My Review

3 Stars

Royal Mistress, the latest release from historical novelist Anne Easter Smith, is a tale of Jane Shore, best known for being mistress to English King Edward IV.  The novel opens just before a young Jane Lambert, daughter of a prominent merchant, is married off to William Shore, a man several years older.  William, however, has little interest in his new wife and Jane quickly becomes dissatisfied with her union, especially as it fails to produce much longed for children.  But a chance meeting with Will Hastings, chamberlain and closest friend to Edward IV, will change Jane's life forever, as Will soon introduces her to the King himself.  Captivated by Jane's beauty and sweet nature, it isn't long before Jane becomes mistress to the King.  While Jane is happy with the King, being Edward's mistress isn't without its drawbacks, and Jane must be wary of those who seek to bring her down. 

Novels set during the reigns of Edward IV and Richard III always appeal to me, especially those that feature the monarchs themselves as important characters.  Although I've recently read a couple of other novels in which Jane Shore is the principal protagonist, I was interested to see how Anne Easter Smith portrayed her.  Easter Smith's Jane is a charming, sweet and good-natured woman, one who always seeks to help others.  It is not difficult to understand why Jane was beloved by Edward and Will Hastings, as well as by the Londoners whose interests she always looked out for.   While I appreciate her appeal, overall I found Jane to be a somewhat boring character and wasn't overly interested in her story.  For me, the strongest aspect of this novel was the sections involving Richard III.  Although I've not yet read Easter Smith's other novels, I am familiar with the fact that she is pro-Richard III.  For this reason I was very curious to see how she characterized him and how she explained some of his actions or those associated with his reign (e.g., the Princes in the Tower).  I wasn't disappointed by Easter Smith's interpretation of the much maligned monarch.   

While the focus of Royal Mistress is on Jane Shore's life, given Jane's relationship with Edward, Anne Easter Smith is also able to provide readers with an interesting glimpse into the politics of Edward IV's court.  Proponents of Richard III will surely be satisfied with his portrayal in this novel.  While I didn't find Jane Shore to be all that compelling of a character, which I acknowledge could simply be a result of my already having read about her recently, I would recommend this novel to anyone interested in reading a fictionalized account of her life. 

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

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Monday, July 1, 2013

My Favourite Canadian Authors (Canada Day Edition)

Today is Canada's 146th birthday!  In honour of this splendid occasion, which is being celebrated across the country, I thought I'd share some of my favourite Canadian authors with you, organized by the genre in which they most commonly write.  

My list of favourites is by no means exhaustive, and I haven't included well-known Canadian authors such as Margaret Atwood or Micheal Ondaatje since many non-Canadian readers are already familiar with them.  I also haven't included any of the authors I featured in my 2012 Canada Day post, the subject of which was great works of Canadian historical fiction (click here to read the post).  

Have you read any of the authors on this list?  Do you enjoy their work?  Who are your favourite Canadian authors? 

Literary Fiction

Ann-Marie MacDonald 

MacDonald is the author of two beautifully written novels set in the past, Fall on Your Knees and As the Crow Flies.  Both novels deal with a multitude of subject matters that stay with you long after you finish the final pages.  

Helen Humphreys

Helen Humphreys is the author of several novels.  While I've only read two of her books (at least so far) -- The Lost Garden and Coventry -- I enjoyed them immensely.   Both novels take place during the Second World War.   The Lost Garden is set in quaint Devon and features a young woman who teaches others how to grow crops in order to help on the home front.  As indicated by the novel's title, Coventry is set in Coventry at the time of the firebombing of the city and provides an intimate look at what it was like to live through it.   

Terry Fallis

Do you enjoy political satires with a heart?  If so, you simply must try Terry Fallis' novels featuring Angus McClintock and Daniel Addison, The Best Laid Plans and The High Road.  You don't have to have a knowledge of Canadian politics or the Canadian political system to enjoy these novels.  Angus is a character who readers will find it hard to forget. 


Guy Gavriel Kay 

Kay is pretty well-known within the fantasy genre.   I have all of his novels on my shelves, although I've not yet read them all.   His best known work is probably The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy, but my favourite (at least so far) is A Song for Arbonne, which is set in a world similar to the South of France in the medieval era.   I can't wait to read the rest of Kay's novels!   I think Kay's novels will appeal to historical fiction lovers who also like fantasy.  

Historical Fiction/Suspense/Paranormal

Susanna Kearsley

Susanna Kearsley is not only one of my favourite Canadian authors, she is one of my favourite authors period.  Kearsley has the ability to pull me right into her stories and I'm always sad to finish them.   I started reading her novels before they started to become popular, and now that Kearsley is becoming better known I'm so happy to see other readers discovering her novels for the first time and getting the same enjoyment out of her books that I do.  My favourites Kearsley novels are Mariana, The Shadowy Horses and Season of Storms, but I've enjoyed each and every one of her books.   

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