Saturday, December 28, 2013

Top 10 Books of 2013

2013 was another great reading year for me.  I read 100 books in a year for the very first time (yay me!).  I rated a number of books at least 4 stars, with a few of them earning 4.5 or 5-star ratings.  Below are the ten books that stood for me (click on the title to read my review, where applicable):

Top 10 Books I Read in 2013

(1)  The Golden Dice by Elisabeth Storrs (Historical Fiction).  The Golden Dice is a fabulous work of historical fiction set in ancient Etruria. 

(2) The Geneva Option by Adam Lebor (Contemporary Thriller).  This novel, the first in a planned series, is fast-paced, intriguing and features an awesome heroine, Yael Azoulay. 

(3) The Crown Tower by Michael J. Sullivan (Fantasy).  The first novel in Sullivan's Riyria Chronicles, which focus on the early years of Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn's (who readers of Sullivan's amazing Riyria Revelations will already be familiar with) partnership. 

(4) The Rose and The Thorn by Michael J. Sullivan (Fantasy).  This is the second novel in the Riyria Chronicles.  I can't wait for more novels in this series!

(5) The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn (Historical Fiction).   Beautifully written historical novel set just before, during and after World War I.

(6) The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway (Historical Fantasy).  This book is a thoroughly enjoyable tale of time travel, adventure and romance.

(7) Letters From Skye by Jessica Brockmole (Historical Fiction).  Spanning WWI and WWII, this beautifully written love story is told through a series of letters.  

(8) The Cartographer of No Man's Land by P.S. Duffy (Historical Fiction).  Alternating between a small village in coastal Nova Scotia and the front lines of France during WWI, this novel showcases the horrors of WWI and what life was life back home for the families of soldiers fighting in it. 

(9) The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielson (Children's Fantasy). While written for children (9-12 year olds) I think any fan of young adult fantasy novels would find this novel enjoyable. 

(10) The Midwife's Tale by Sam Thomas (Historical Mystery).  This mystery is set in the Northern English city of York during the height of its siege by rebel forces during the English Civil War and features a midwife as the lead character. 

Honourable Mentions:

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden (Historical Fiction).  Set in what is now Canada during the 17th century, The Orenda is a powerful novel of one Aboriginal Nation (Huron) and early European settlement.  

A Divided Inheritance by Deborah Swift (Historical Fiction).  Set in England and Spain during the 17th century

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (Science Fiction).  I do not normally read Science Fiction, but this book was awesome and now I plan to read more in the genre. 

Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle (Historical Fiction).  Great historical novel about Katherine Parr, Henry VIII's sixth and final wife.

Did any of these novels make your best of list? 

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

2013 End of Year Book Survey

It's time for the 2013 End of Year Book Survey, hosted by Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner.  I first took part in this survey last year and had so much fun that I've decided to participate once again.   There are two parts to the survey, (1) Best Books of 2013 and (2) Book Blogging/Reading Life in 2013 (optional), although, like last year, I've elected only to respond to part one.   th: Responses do not have to be limited only to books published in 2013.  

So, without further ado, here are my survey results (where applicable, click on the book's title to read my review):

1. Best Book You Read In 2013?

Best Book OverallThe Golden Dice by Elisabeth Storrs (Historical Fiction)

Favourite Fantasy: The Crown Tower and The Rose and The Thorn (Books One and Two of the Riyria Chronicles) by Michael J. Sullivan

Favourite Thriller:  The Geneva Option by Adam Lebor

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Longbourn by Jo Baker.  I liked this one well enough, but I certainly didn’t feel the love for it that so many other readers did. 

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2013? 

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.   I tend to shy away from hyped novels — this one received a lot of attention on both my Twitter feed and in my favourite bookstore — because, after finishing them, I usually end up wondering what all the hype was about, but The Rosie Project was a delight to read and worth every bit of hype it received.  

4. Book you read in 2013 that you recommended to people most in 2013?

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.  Everyone that I recommended this book to enjoyed it every bit as much as I did.  

5. Best series you discovered in 2013?

The Riyria Chronicles by Michael J. Sullivan, the first two books of which (The Crown Tower and The Rose and the Thorn) were released this year.

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2013?

Adam Lebor — Lebor’s first novel, The Geneva Option, made my list of favourites for this year.   I'm looking forward to continuing with his Yael Azoulay series.  

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill.   I haven’t read any books within the horror genre in years, but decided to try Joe Hill’s latest release due to all the great reviews it was receiving.  Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy the book. 

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2013?

Divergent by Veronica Roth.  I think I read this one in less than a day.  I just couldn’t stop reading it.

9. Book You Read In 2013 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

I’m not much of a re-reader, but I’ll likely re-read Persuasion by Jane Austen next year.  It’s my all-time favourite novel and I’ve already re-read it several times. 

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2013?

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden.   The vivid description of the setting in this novel is captured by the book's cover. 

11. Most memorable character in 2013? 

Definitely Professor Don Tillman from The Rosie Project and Nora Simms from Woman of Ill Fame by Erika Mailman.  I fell in love with both of these characters right from the opening page. 

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2013?

I have two: The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn and Oleanna by Julie K. Rose.  Both of these works of historical fiction eloquently convey a strong sense of time and place. 

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2013? 

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden, which covers a period of Canadian history (before Canada was Canada) I had limited knowledge of.  Like Three Day Road, one of Boyden's previous novels, I think The Orenda should be on every Canadian's to be read list.   

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2013 to finally read? 

Divergent by Veronica Roth.  Although I’m glad I waited as I timed my read of Divergent (and Insurgent) to match up with the release of the trilogy’s final installment, Allegiant.  

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2013?

I’ll often take notice of passages/quotes as I’m reading, but since I never highlight them or write them down I don't have any to share.

16. Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2013?

Shortest: Isabella-Braveheart of France by Colin Falconer (218 pages)

Longest: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (704 pages)

17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It?

The ending of Allegiant by Veronica Roth (anyone who's read it will know what I'm talking about)

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2013 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).

This friendship made my list last year too — Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn from Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Chronicles, a prequel series to his fantastic Riyria Revelations which chronicles Hadrian and Royce’s early years together.

19. Favorite Book You Read in 2013 From An Author You’ve Read Previously:

The Golden Dice by Elisabeth Storrs, which is the follow-up to The Wedding Shroud

20. Best Book You Read In 2013 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (recommended by Kaley from Books, Etc). 

21. Genre You Read The Most From in 2013?

Historical Fiction.  I’ve read 103 books so far in 2013, and of these 75 were works of historical fiction.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2013?

I’ve had a crush on Hadrian Blackwater since I first read Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations series last year.  That crush continues with the release of the Riyria Chronicles this year.  

24. Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2013?

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden, who brings a 17th century Huron Indian community to life in vivid detail.

25. Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2013?

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2013?

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden, Allegiant by Veronica Roth, Wolfsangel by Liza Perrat, and Letters From Skye by Jessica Brockmole.

27. Book You Read in 2013 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out?

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Book Review: Woman of Ill Fame by Erika Mailman


Looking for a better life, Nora Simms sails from the East Coast to gold rush San Francisco with a plan for success: to strike it rich by trading on her good looks. But when a string of murders claims several of her fellow “women of ill fame,” Nora grows uneasy with how closely linked all of the victims are to her. Even her rise to the top of her profession and a move to the fashionable part of town don’t shelter her from the danger, and she must distinguish friend from foe in a race to discover the identity of the killer.

November 11, 2013 (e-book publication date) | ASIN: B00GM1VHV2

My Review

When I was first asked if I was interested in being part of the virtual book tour for Woman of Ill Fame I have to admit I was a little hesitant.  Historical novels featuring a prostitute as the central character have never really been my thing.  However, since I enjoyed Erika Mailman's other historical novel, The Witches Trinity, I thought I would give Woman of Ill Fame a try, and I am glad I did! 

Set in Gold Rush-era San Francisco, the heroine of this novel is Nora Simms, a free-spirited prostitute who sails from New England to California, where she hopes to make her fortune.  Though she is the victim of theft almost immediately upon her arrival in San Francisco, Nora doesn't let the loss of all her worldly possessions deter her from her achieving dreams.  Determined to establish herself as one of San Francisco's premier prostitutes, Nora takes steps to improve herself so she can find employment in a high-end parlour house.  The murders of several "woman of ill-fame" with whom Nora had contact serve to make her doubly committed to finding herself a more reputable and safe place to practice her trade.  But Nora's realization of her dream doesn't provide her with any greater safety, as the murders continue and, this time, they are even closer to home.  Can Nora uncover the murderer's identify before she becomes his next victim? 

In Woman of Ill Fame Erika Mailman does a great job of bringing mid-19th century San Francisco to life.  Mailman's descriptions give readers a flavour for the roughness of the town, a place where just about anything goes as people aspire to make their fortunes. While I enjoyed the novel's setting, it is the heroine that truly makes this book shine.  In Nora Simms, Erika Mailman has created a character who readers will immediately fall in love with and who will stay with them long after the final page has been read.  Nora is a kind-hearted soul who always seeks to help others, especially those less fortunate than she, expecting nothing in return for doing so.  She is unashamed of her chosen profession and seeks to get ahead on her own merits rather than accepting handouts from friends.  Nora's also smart, sassy, and laugh out loud funny.  Her relationships with Mehitabel, her first landlord, and Abe, a former miner turned stable hand, showcase Nora's tender side.  While I guessed the true identity of the murderer fairly early in the novel, following Nora as she attempted to uncover the truth proved entertaining and suspenseful nonetheless. 

All in all, Woman of Ill Fame is a highly entertaining novel that features a truly memorable heroine, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to any fan of historical fiction.  

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a digital copy of this novel as part of Erika Mailman's virtual book tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Be sure to check out the tour schedule here for links to other reviews and giveaway opportunities.

About the Author

Erika Mailman is the author of The Witch’s Trinity, a Bram Stoker finalist and a San Francisco Chronicle Notable Book, and Woman of Ill Fame, a Pushcart Press Editor’s Book Award nominee. While writing The Witch’s Trinity, she learned she was the descendant of a woman accused twice of witchcraft in the decades predating Salem.

For more information please visit Erika Mailman’s website and blog.

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Book Review: Heirs and Graces by Rhys Bowen


As thirty-fifth in line for the throne, Lady Georgiana Rannoch may not be the most sophisticated young woman, but she knows her table manners. It’s forks on the left, knives on the right—not in His Majesty’s back…

Here I am thinking the education I received at my posh Swiss finishing school would never come in handy. And while it hasn’t landed me a job, or a husband, it has convinced Her Majesty the Queen and the Dowager Duchess to enlist my help. I have been entrusted with grooming Jack Altringham—the Duke’s newly discovered heir fresh from the Outback of Australia—for high society.

The upside is I am to live in luxury at one of England’s most gorgeous stately homes. But upon arrival at Kingsdowne Place, my dearest Darcy has been sent to fetch Jack, leaving me stuck in a manor full of miscreants…none of whom are too pleased with the discovery of my new ward.

And no sooner has the lad been retrieved than the Duke announces he wants to choose his own heir. With the house in a hubbub over the news, Jack’s hunting knife somehow finds its way into the Duke’s back. Eyes fall, backs turn, and fingers point to the young heir. As if the rascal wasn’t enough of a handful, now he’s suspected of murder. Jack may be wild, but I’d bet the crown jewels it wasn’t he who killed the Duke…

Berkeley Hardcover | August 6, 2013 | 304 pages | ISBN: 978-0425260029

My Review:

Heirs and Graces, the seventh installment in Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness mystery series, finds Lady Georgiana Rannoch at Kingsdowne Place, the home of the Duke of Eynsford, in 1934. The Duke’s mother has recruited Georgie to educate her son’s recently discovered heir, Jack, in the ways of high society. This task is not without considerable challenges given that Jack has only recently arrived from the Australian Outback, where he was raised. Georgie, however, is soon confronted with a bigger challenge when the Duke is found dead with Jack’s knife stuck in his back. While it appears that Jack has the most reason to want the Duke dead, Georgie is convinced that he isn’t the culprit. Can the real murderer be found before it’s too late?

In Heirs and Graces Rhys Bowen once again delivers a fun and clever read. Lady Georgiana is one of the most refreshing heroines in historical fiction. She’s intelligent, sensible, and portrayed in a manner consistent with the fact that she’s the daughter of a duke and a member of Britain’s royal family. Like its predecessors, Heirs and Graces is full of quirky and eccentric characters both old and new, many of whom are easy to love, including Georgie’s non-aristocratic grandfather. Darcy O’Mara, Georgie’s longtime love interest, also makes an appearance. One of my favourite aspects of this series, which is reflected in this novel, is that rather than overshadowing the main plot Georgie and Darcy’s relationship complements it. The mystery itself is well developed and, even though there are a number of clues pointing to the murderer’s true identify sprinkled throughout the book, the ultimate resolution is still unexpected.

Overall, Heirs and Graces is as great addition to the Royal Spyness series.

Note: This review first appeared in Historical Novels Review (Issue 66, November 2013).  I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books on My Winter To Be Read Pile


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and Bookish.   This meme features a different top 10 list every week.   This week's list is:

Top Ten Books on My Winter To Be Read Pile

I love making reading lists, but I'm not all that great at sticking to them because my reading decisions are strongly influenced by my mood at the time I'm deciding what to read next.   So, while I'm currently planning on reading the books listed below this winter, unless I'm committed to posting a review on a certain day I very well may not get to them until the spring, summer, fall or even next winter :-)

(1) The Harlot's Tale by Sam Thomas.   Due to be released in January, this is the follow-up to Thomas' excellent debut, The Midwife's Tale.  

(2) A King's Ransom by Sharon Kay Penman.   This novel picks up where Lionheart, Penman's novel of Richard I, left off.   Due to be released in early March, I'll be reading this one as soon as it's released :-)

(3) The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick.  I meant to read this one last summer, but never got the chance. 

(4) The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England.  I loved Mortimer's The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England so I'm very much looking forward to reading this one. 

(5) Hild by Nicola Griffith.   Historical fiction that follows the life of the woman who became known as St Hilda of Whitby.

(6) Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes.  I've heard great things about this book and can't wait to crack it open.

(7) Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardago.   Another book that I've heard fabulous things about.

(8) Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.   I've had this book on my shelf since it was first released, but have put off reading it until the whole trilogy was available.  Since the third book is due to be published this spring, it's high time I picked this one up.

(9) Golden Fool by Robin Hobb.  I love Hobb's novels.  I started this one, the second in Hobb's Tawny Man trilogy, a few weeks back but had to put it aside to tackle review books.  I'll pick it back up early in 2014.

(10) Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness.  I really enjoyed Harkness' A Discovery of Witches and was super eager to read this one as a result.  When I first started it way back when it was released I had to put it aside because I wasn't in the mood for it.   The final book in the trilogy is due out in summer making the winter the perfect time to (finally) read this one.

What books are on your winter TBR pile?

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Monday, December 9, 2013

Book Review - Isabella: Braveheart of France by Colin Falconer


She was taught to obey. Now she has learned to rebel.

12 year old Isabella, a French princess marries the King of England - only to discover he has a terrible secret. Ten long years later she is in utter despair - does she submit to a lifetime of solitude and a spiritual death - or seize her destiny and take the throne of England for herself?

Isabella is just twelve years old when she marries Edward II of England. For the young princess it is love at first sight - but Edward has a terrible secret that threatens to tear their marriage - and England apart.

Who is Piers Gaveston - and why is his presence in the king’s court about to plunge England into civil war?

The young queen believes in the love songs of the troubadours and her own exalted destiny - but she finds reality very different. As she grows to a woman in the deadly maelstrom of Edward’s court, she must decide between her husband, her children, even her life - and one breath-taking gamble that will change the course of history.

This is the story of Isabella, the only woman ever to invade England - and win.

In the tradition of Philippa Gregory and Elizabeth Chadwick, ISABELLA is thoroughly researched and fast paced, the little known story of the one invasion the English never talk about.

Cool Gus Publishing | September 12, 2013 | 218 pages (print)

My Review

Isabella of France, Queen consort of English King Edward II, is best known for her affair with English baron Roger Mortimer and, with Mortimer's help, for ousting Edward II from the throne.   Although early to mid-14th century England is not a period in which I'm overly familiar, I've read enough works featuring Edward II to have an understanding of the basic facts, and to know that Isabella, sometimes referred to as the She-Wolf of France, is not well regarded by history.  As such, I gladly accepted the opportunity to review Colin Falconer's latest work of historical fiction, Isabella: Braveheart of France, which chronicles Isabella's life from her final days as a young girl in France to the overthrow and imprisonment of her husband.  

Falconer's novel, at least in the early pages, presents Isabella as a sympathetic figure.  Married to Edward II at the age of 12, Isabella wants nothing more than to love her husband and be loved by him in return.   But Edward already has a favourite, Piers Gaveston, a man detested by England's barons.   Despite not having Edward's heart, Isabella keeps faith with her husband and, using the training in the art of politics provided by her father - French King Philip IV - continues to offer her support in his rule of England.  When Gaveston is killed Edward is devastated, but Isabella sees it as an opportunity to win her husband back to her side.  Her hopes are short-lived, however, when a new favourite - Hugh le Despenser - takes Gaveston's place.  While Isabella had come to accept Gaveston being a part Edward's life, she despises Hugh le Despenser as much as Edward's barons do.  Ultimately it is Despenser's hold over Edward and the King's failure to take heed of the advice of both Isabella and his barons that compels Isabella, who has begun her affair with Roger Mortimer, to rebel.   It is also at this point of the novel where my sympathies for Isabella began to wane, as I felt she allowed Mortimer far too much influence over her decisions.  

Overall, Isabella: Braveheart of France is good book.  I think Falconer does a nice job of showcasing Isabella's struggles to make her marriage work and to fulfill her duties as Queen consort.  While I didn't always agree with Isabella's decisions, especially those made later in Edward II's reign, Falconer was able to make me understand her reasons for taking them.  I also liked Falconer's portrayal of Edward II who, although clearly not cut out for kingship, was steadfastly loyal to the few people he trusted.  While Isabella is the novel's principal protagonist, the reader is exposed to enough of Edward to garner an appreciation for why his barons took such issue with his rule.  Even though I liked the book overall, I nevertheless did have a few issues minor issues with the story.  The quick pace of the book makes it an easy read, but I found some events were covered a little too quickly.   This ties into my next issue, which is that novel introduces a number of different barons without providing an adequate explanation of who they are or how they fit into the story.  Given that it is Isabella and the barons who ultimately bring Edward II down, additional explanation as to who's who and the source of their grievances against Edward would have been helpful.  In the end, however, the novel's strengths outweighed the few issues I had with it and for this reason I found it a satisfying read.  While Colin Falconer has written a number of works of historical fiction, Isabella: Braveheart of France is the first of his works I've read and it won't be the last. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: 2014 Releases I Can't Wait to Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and Bookish.   This meme features a different top 10 list every week.   This week's list is:

Top Ten 2014 Releases I Can't Wait to Read 

(1) King's Ransom by Sharon Kay Penman [edited to change title.  I know the book cover doesn't match] 

(2) Mirror Sight by Kristen Britain 

(3) Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen 

(4) Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle

(5) The Shadow Queen by Sandra Gulland

(6) The Lion and the Rose by Kate Quinn

(7) At Break of Day by Elizabeth Speller 

(8) Daughter of the Gods by Stephanie Thornton

(9) Hollow World by Michael J. Sullivan

(10) Ember Island by Kimberley Freeman

What 2014 releases are you looking forward to?

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