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Review – Spirit of Lost Angels – Liza Perrat

spirit of lost angelsSpirit of Lost Angels
Author: Liza Perrat

Review Copy Provided by the Author

Description:
Her mother executed for witchcraft, her father dead at the hand of a noble, Victoire Charpentier vows to rise above her poor peasant roots.

Forced to leave her village of Lucie-sur-Vionne for domestic work in Paris, Victoire suffers gruesome abuse under the ancien régime. Can she muster the bravery and skill to join the revolutionary force gripping France, and overthrow the corrupt, diabolical aristocracy?

Spirit of Lost Angels traces the journey of a bone angel talisman passed down through generations. The women of L’Auberge des Anges face tragedy and betrayal in a world where their gift can be their curse.

Review:
Growing up with a mom that is a French teacher, the French revolution is a period of history that has been of interest to me for quite a while – I even took a section on it in high school. So I had a working familiarity with the time period that Spirit of Lost Angels was set in. I think this helped me to connect with the characters on a different level than someone who might not know much about the period. I felt that Liza did a great job of portrayal the trials and tribulations of the period. I also learnt something new about the women who were involved in the revolution – since so much of the history is focused on the men (I mean, since we all know that they are great and powerful), and there isn’t ever much said about the women, with the exception of Marie Antonionette (and her infamous, let them eat cake). I also enjoyed how the author was able to draw in other historical characters (Thomas Jefferson and Mary Wollstonecraft) which I felt added some authenticity to the text.

But at the same time, there were a few places that I struggled with and I can’t pinpoint why…I was able to put it down and at one stage was in no rush to pick it back up. But when I did, I was immediately sucked back in…which is why I’m ambivalent over my rating of the book. I have to admit that I am intrigued about how other books in the series are going to play out with the idea of the lost angels – there was a brief excerpt in the back of the book for the next one and i’ll likely be checking it out. Overall, I would give Spirit of Lost Angels 3.5 stars, but rounding down to 3 on Goodreads (and up to 4 on Amazon).

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2013 in Book Review

 

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Review – An Echo Through the Snow – Andrea Thalasinos

an echo through the snowAn Echo Through the Snow
Author: Andrea Thalasinos
Publisher: Forge Books
Release Date: August 21, 2013

Description:
Rosalie MacKenzie is headed nowhere until she sees Smokey, a Siberian husky suffering from neglect. Rosalie finds the courage to rescue the dog, and—united by the bond of love that forms between them—they save each other. Soon Rosalie and Smokey are immersed in the world of competitive dogsled racing. Days are filled with training runs, the stark beauty of rural Wisconsin, and the whoosh of runners on snow. Rosalie discovers that behind the modern sport lies a tragic history: the heartbreaking story of the Chukchi people of Siberia. When Stalin’s Red Army displaced the Chukchi in 1929, many were killed and others lost their homes and their beloved Guardians—the huskies that were the soul and livelihood of their people.

Review:
Sometimes when I have a few minutes at the library, I love just browsing through the shelves and seeing the random books that look intriguing. The other day, I was doing just that on the new releases shelf when I came across An Echo Through the Snow. The first thing about it that caught my eye was the starkness of the cover, with just the picture of the dog and a woman. Then after reading the description, I decided to take a chance on it because I was sufficiently intrigued.

While this is primarily a story about rescuing of dogs, dog sled racing and the history of how the Siberian husky came to be in the US, it is also a story about finding your place in the world. How for so many people we bounce around from job to job, the day in drudgery making people unmotivated to succeed and just floundering…but when that place in the world is found, the all of the pieces click into place…and that was how Rosalie’s story played out. I loved seeing her blossom as a young woman and finding her place in the world. Originally, I thought that she was a bit older than she turned out to be (18, vice in her mid-20’s) – but I think that added to her innocence during parts of the book.

The use of the flashbacks to the early 20th century and a period of Russian history, I had heard of vaguely but didn’t know a lot about. It is interesting to see how different books are starting to encompass that period of history now that they are free to write about it. But at the same time, they were a bit disjointed – I didn’t realize for a while how exactly they were going to be linked – it wasn’t like they were person flashbacks in history/familial connections, but rather dream-time kind of stories, which I could see being linked into Rosalie’s Native American heritage.

I think that my biggest complaint was how quickly everything seemed to progress – ultimately, the entire story took place in just under a years time – but it felt like it was moving really quickly and that everything fell into place a bit too quickly…I would have loved to have seen it drawn out a little bit more, maybe even only a couple more months to a year. But for the most part, my complaints about the book are few and far between. I enjoyed reading it and learned a lot about the sport of dog sledding (and it kind of makes me want to read some more about it and maybe travel somewhere to see a race – yes, I am that insane…). Overall, I would give this a 3.5, but rounding up to 4 stars. I think that it is a book that would probably be enjoyed by women, but I think also older teenagers, might enjoy it.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2013 in Book Review

 

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Review – Mrs Lincoln’s Dressmaker – Jennifer Chiaverini

mrs lincolnMrs Lincoln’s Dressmaker
Author: Jennifer Chiaverini
Release Date: January 15, 2013

Review Copy Provided by Dutton Adult via Edelweiss

Description:
In Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, novelist Jennifer Chiaverini presents a stunning account of the friendship that blossomed between Mary Todd Lincoln and her seamstress, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Keckley, a former slave who gained her professional reputation in Washington, D.C. by outfitting the city’s elite. Keckley made history by sewing for First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln within the White House, a trusted witness to many private moments between the President and his wife, two of the most compelling figures in American history.

In March 1861, Mrs. Lincoln chose Keckley from among a number of applicants to be her personal “modiste,” responsible not only for creating the First Lady’s gowns, but also for dressing Mrs. Lincoln in the beautiful attire Keckley had fashioned. The relationship between the two women quickly evolved, as Keckley was drawn into the intimate life of the Lincoln family, supporting Mary Todd Lincoln in the loss of first her son, and then her husband to the assassination that stunned the nation and the world.

Keckley saved scraps from the dozens of gowns she made for Mrs. Lincoln, eventually piecing together a tribute known as the Mary Todd Lincoln Quilt. She also saved memories, which she fashioned into a book, Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. Upon its publication, Keckley’s memoir created a scandal that compelled Mary Todd Lincoln to sever all ties with her, but in the decades since, Keckley’s story has languished in the archives.

Review:
I have previously read/listened to Ms Chiaverini’s work (her Elm Creek Quilters series) and enjoyed it, so when I saw that she had written a new book that was primarily historical fiction, I jumped on the opportunity to read/review it. My favorite part of her other series is how she is able to seamlessly go back in time to describe a key element, so I was curious to see how she could pull off an entire HF book. There have been numerous books written about Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley, her modiste (although the title is dressmaker, that isn’t necessarily accurate). However, I haven’t read any of them, which I am kind of glad of, because it meant that going into reading this book that my mind was a clean slate.

I found the first part of the book the most interesting about how Elizabeth came to work for Mrs. Lincoln following the election. But not only that, the sense of realism that was portrayed in how Mrs. Lincoln was talked/gossiped about – I made me think about the similarities between her and celebrities today – nice to see that some things haven’t changed. I really enjoyed the book up until the point just after Lincoln was assassinated and what happened to Mrs. Lincoln and her family – but then it just felt like it started going down hill. There were parts that it seemed like the author had just gotten a hold of Elizabeth Keckley’s memoir (which I am planning on reading) and was just regurgitating some of the stuff mentioned in there. It felt much more memoir-ish, than historical fiction -which is a pity. The last 25% of the book or so just dragged – I wasn’t that interested in what was going on which was a disappointment because I had enjoyed the first part of it. The story behind the tell-all memoir was intriguing, and kind of reminds me of how pretty much every celebrity today has had a bio/memoir written about then and how newspapers like the National Enquire go to extreme lengths for these “tell-all” tales – so maybe some historical basis to how these items came to be?

I think that this stage, I probably would have gotten more out of reading the memoir, so I could see what was real and what the author had actually interpretated based on her research. The story behind the quilt was interesting (and I did like that in the authors note, she described how she had come up with the storyline for it that she had). While I enjoyed bits and pieces of the authors writing style, I think I am going to stick to her contemporary fiction with flashbacks – I found it much more enjoyable. I have requested a copy of Elizabeth Keckley’s memoir from the library and am curious to read it. Overall, I’d give Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker 3 stars, but it is on the lower side of the 3.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2013 in Book Review

 

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Audiobook Review – The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate – Jacqueline Kelly

calpurnia tateThe Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Author: Jacqueline Kelly

Narrator: Natalie Ross
Run Time: 9hrs and 1 minute
Publisher: Brilliance Audio

Description:
Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones.With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger. As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.

Review:
I have to admit that I probably would have passed over this book, if it hadn’t show up on a random book list that I was browsing one day, and then that it was readily available via audiobook from the library – so I didn’t have to wait on it. I don’t know why it is, maybe because the name in the title just made me want to chuckle and not take it seriously. Either way, if I had, I would have missed out on a brilliant YA book – it was totally worth the listen and I can see why it was nominated for the Newbury Award, even if it didn’t win.

I was immediately sucked into Calpurnia Victoria Tate’s (or Cally V’s) story – she is kind of how I imagined I would be if I had grown up at the turn of the 20th century – not wanting to be what was expected of me (a housekeeper, enjoying sewing etc), but rather wanting to play outside, into science etc. I thought that the author did a job of portraying the world how it was then – the idea that as 1900 rolled around the world might end (does this sound familiar?), the introduction of coca-cola and even the invention of the automobile. Cally’s grandfather definitely made the book all the more enjoyable – in all seriousness, he was a comic relief when needed but could also be serious as well. I loved how he was so absorbed in his own world that he often forgot what was going on around him.

There wasn’t anything really earth-shattering about how the story concluded – in fact, it was a relatively logical progression through-out and you could see how it was unfolding. I did like how the use of evolution in the title could be applied in two different ways – the study of evolution as with the grasshoppers and use of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Spieces but also the evolution of Calpurnia as a woman and a person – how she changed over the course of the 7 months that the book covered.

I love Natalie Ross as a narrator of audiobooks, she is rapidly becoming a go-to person for me. But it was funny when I first started listening to the audiobook because I had just listened to another book narrated by her recently (less than 2 months ago) and I kept hearing the voice of Dani (from Iced) in my head, because they were both young female characters between the ages of 12 and 14. I hadn’t really noticed this previously and it didn’t really bother me, just intrigued me that I could hear similarities in voice patterns even though one was an urban fantasy and the other a historical fiction. I can’t say much more about the narration – I loved how Ms Ross was able to provide so many different inflections to bring the characters to life – especially with the minutia of sounds that are part of life, but don’t necessarily show up in dialogue – like hiccups (there is a relatively memorable scene featuring these), burps etc. I’m sure I would have enjoyed it as much if I read it, but listening added a whole new dimension. It would be a great audiobook to listen to with kids on a car trip because it would suck them in (hopefully).

Anyone who loves historical fiction and YA should read or listen to this book. I give it 4.5 stars.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2013 in Audiobook Review

 

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Audiobook Review – Maisie Dobbs – Jacqueline Winspear

maisie dobbsMaisie Dobbs
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Series: #1 in the Maisie Dobbs series

Narrator: Rita Barrington
Run Time: 10 hrs
Producer: AudioGO

Description:
Maisie Dobbs isn’t just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence–and the patronage of her benevolent employers–she works her way into college at Cambridge. When World War I breaks out, Maisie goes to the front as a nurse. It is there that she learns that coincidences are meaningful and the truth elusive. After the War, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.

Review:
I had heard about this series through several of my online reading buddies who loved it – so when it was selected as a group read, I figured that it must have been a sign (since I didn’t really have any interest in either of the other books selected). I was looking forward to a lite mystery after reading a lot of dark, completely jacked up Nordic Noir mysteries and this was a great palate cleanser.

I loved the character of Maisie – she just seemed so unique in the current fiction world as it stands right now. And the time period is one of interest to me since there aren’t a lot of books written in the time period between WW1 and WW2 (that I have found). The mystery wasn’t so much of a mystery as a plot leading to a realization – or at least, that is how i saw it – while I didn’t know all the details that were revealed at the end, I had a 95% idea of what the result was going to be. But I honestly didn’t mind – for me, the best part of the book was seeing how Maisie Dobbs became Maisie Dobbs. The biggest surprise for me in the story was what happened to the love of her life during the war (but don’t worry, I try to keep my reviews spoiler free – so as not to ruin the book). It wasn’t what I was expecting and totally made me tear up.

However, one of my complaints was that while I liked that flashbacks were used – they were a bit chunky – I think the first flashback actually lasted a significant portion of the book – so when it jumped back to the present day I was a bit surprised/confused. I think it either would have been better to have broken the flash-backs up into some smaller portions – almost like an appetizer, rather than a whole entree – or write the first part of the book as her history up until when the mystery began. I think the former probably would have worked the best.

Unfortunately, my experience with the audiobook didn’t live up to the book itself and if I had had time, I might have stopped listening and read instead. I know that I nearly considered doing that with the rest of the series – because someone told me that the other books are narrated by someone else. I just did not enjoy the narrators voice. While I found that her female voices were passable – her male ones were like torture – I think I would have preferred a recitation rather than hearing her try to do male voices. It just didn’t work for me – which is unfortunately, because I think if done properly, this could have been a great audiobook (and the second one – review to follow in the future), was much improved. This is the first time that I have listened to anything by this narrator and it likely will be the last. I don’t think that I can fairly judge her on any other narrations after my feelings towards this one.

Overall, I’d give the book a solid 4 stars, but the narration only 1.5 – however, I do think that the book overall balanced out the mess of the narration – so 3.5 overall.

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2012 in Audiobook Review

 

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Audiobook Review – The Ruby Ring – Diane Haegar

the ruby ringThe Ruby Ring
Author: Diane Haegar

Narrator: Elizabeth Wiley
Run Time: 13 hours and 23 minutes
Publisher: Audible, Inc.

Review copy provided by Audible.com via Audiobook Jukebox

Description:
Rome, 1520. The Eternal City is in mourning. Raphael Sanzio, beloved painter and national hero, has died suddenly at the height of his fame. His body lies in state at the splendid marble Pantheon. At the nearby convent of Sant’Apollonia, a young woman comes to the Mother Superior, seeking refuge. She is Margherita Luti, a baker’s daughter from a humble neighborhood on the Tiber, now an outcast from Roman society, persecuted by powerful enemies within the Vatican. Margherita was Raphael’s beloved and appeared as the Madonna in many of his paintings. Theirs was a love for the ages. But now that Raphael is gone, the convent is her only hope of finding an honest and peaceful life.

The Mother Superior agrees to admit Margherita to their order. But first, she must give up the ruby ring she wears on her left hand, the ring she had worn in Raphael’s scandalous nude “engagement portrait.” The ring has a storied past, and it must be returned to the Church or Margherita will be cast out into the streets. Behind the quiet walls of the convent, Margherita makes her decision . . . and remembers her life with Raphael—and the love and torment—embodied in that one precious jewel.

Review:
So prior to listening to the Ruby Ring, i knew very little about Raphael – as a man and as an artist – in fact, most of my knowledge steams from what I looked up when the original Teenage Mutant ninja turtles were on when I was a kid – because the 4 of them were all famous painters. But other than that, I was never really interested in artists or reading about them. But there was something about the description of The Ruby Ring that caught my eye. Possibly the idea that he had that forbidden but ultimately love – or that he went against what society believes to have this woman in his life.

I loved the story that developed between Margherita and Raphael – there were something pure about it. Especially the fact that she didn’t just fall into his arms – she had some mettle in her, and wasn’t going to be tricked into just sleeping with him and being ruined. A lot of the themes in this, reminded me of the similar story told in Course of Honour (Lindsey Davis) which followed the love story of Emperor Vespasian and the former slave, Caenis. I laughed with the characters in parts, and there definately wasn’t a dry eye in my car as I was driving around totally at random, trying to listen to the last 10 minutes of the book because I had to know what happened. My only disappointment was that we knew what happened to Raphael, but Margherita’s story just ends without a resolution – how long did she live? did she live out her days in the convent?

I have to admit that while listening to this, I have to wonder how the Catholic Church has remained the fixture that it has over the years. Pope Leo X (Pope from 1513 to 1521) seemed pretty much a corrupt individual, second only to Cardinal Bibbizena who was integral to the suffering between Raphael and Margherita. The book also made me think about how many celebrities etc are treated not as people, but as the stuff that they produce and that as a society we often forget that. Until something happens (they do something, something is done to them) and then that perspective completely changes, for a brief period of time. Then everything is back to normal.

Whether this story is the true story of Raphael’s love for a woman, or a fictional account we will never know – there is a lot of debate over who Margherita Luti was, and what brought about Raphael’s death. The romantic in me, wants to believe this story – that he went to his grave with the passion of love for her driving him on. And I can only hope, also as a romantic, that they were together again in death when she died.

I’m conflicted on the narration – while I think that the narrator did a good job of Margherita and Raphael’s voices, many of the other ones (Pope Leo for example) left a lot to be desired. It seemed as though she was really straining to accentuate some of them, and making them sound not suited in general. I think this book would have been a good one where a female narrator would have worked predominantly, but using a male for some key parts (similar to other duel narrations like Natalie Ross and Phil Gigante in Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series).

The quality of the audiobook was good for the most part. There were a few places where it got very quiet, so I had to turn up the volume, and then it would jump back to normal – but it wasn’t enough to be distracting. More of a minor irritation. I know that I will be looking for more books produced by Audible in the future – but whether I listen to anymore by the narrator is uncertain. 3.5 stars for the book, but only 2.5 for the narration – giving it 3 stars overall.

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2012 in Audiobook Review

 

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Audiobook Review – Hostage – Elie Wiesel

hostageHostage
Author: Elie Wiesel
Translator: Catherine Temerson

Narrator: Mark Bramhall
Run Time: 6 hrs 51 minutes
Publisher: Random House Audio

Description:
It’s 1975, and Shaltiel Feigenberg—professional storyteller, writer and beloved husband—has been taken hostage: abducted from his home in Brooklyn, blindfolded and tied to a chair in a dark basement. His captors, an Arab and an Italian, don’t explain why the innocent Shaltiel has been chosen, just that his life will be bartered for the freedom of three Palestinian prisoners. As his days of waiting commence, Shaltiel resorts to what he does best, telling stories—to himself and to the men who hold his fate in their hands.

Review:
It has been years since I’d read/listened to anything by Elie Wiesel – I remember reading Night in school – but didn’t realize that it was the first book in a trilogy. I also knew that he had written other stuff, but for some reason never actually read any of it – I’m not sure why. So when a reading challenge task arose to read a book about a renaissance author (in this instance, defined as one who is know for their writing as well as something else), I decided to finally read something else by him. Hostage is his newest book and I found that I really enjoyed it.

It had the same writing style that I vaguely remember from Night, that just sucks you in. Since I was listening, I couldn’t see for sure, but the appearance was that there were no chapters to disrupt the flow of the story. Although, this lack of chapters occasionally made it hard for me to figure out where I could safely stop when I finished my commute (I even sat in the car for a few minutes waiting one day), but at the same time, it was also easy to pick the narration back up at the end of the day/the next morning.

When I read the description and saw stories – I was expecting made up stories with morals, kind of what you would expect from a storyteller – but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the “stories” were actually reflections on his life. I also thought that Elie did a good job of walking the line between preaching about the establishment of Israel as a recognized country and the plight of the Palestinians – he was even able to work real-life events into the book (the killing of the Israeli athletes at the Olympics etc).

Mark Bramhall is another new to me narrator (I seem to have been doing a good job on exploring the wonderful world of them this year) and i think that he was perfect for the voice. It was how I would imagine a guy being held hostage, in fear for his life would talk – not too powerful, but at the same time, not too timid. Since the only other 2 people to really talk in the book were the hostage takers (aka, the Italian and the Palestinian), he didn’t have to exhibit a wide range of voices. But I would definitely be interested in checking out some more of his narrations in the future.

This was a hard book for me to rate, because it was so thought-provoking about the role of nations and nation-building; but at the same time, the struggles of the individuals who aren’t always considered or remembered. But I’d give it 4 stars overall.

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2012 in Audiobook Review

 

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