My journey through the world of writing and everything that lies in between…

Archive for the ‘reading’ Category

HFC 2011: The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas

Summary from Goodreads:
In a city-state known for magnificence, where love affairs and conspiracies play out amidst brilliant painters, poets and musicians, the powerful and ambitious Alfonso d’Este, duke of Ferrara, takes a new bride. Half of Europe is certain he murdered his first wife, Lucrezia, the luminous child of the Medici. But no one dares accuse him, and no one has proof-least of all his second duchess, the far less beautiful but delightfully clever Barbara of Austria.

At first determined to ignore the rumors about her new husband, Barbara embraces the pleasures of the Ferrarese court. Yet wherever she turns she hears whispers of the first duchess’s wayward life and mysterious death. Barbara asks questions-a dangerous mistake for a duchess of Ferrara. Suddenly, to save her own life, Barbara has no choice but to risk the duke’s terrifying displeasure and discover the truth of Lucrezia’s death-or she will share her fate.

Review:

The story is based off real people–Barbara of Austria and Alfonso II d’Este as well as the famous poem  by Robert Browning called “My Last Duchess.”

The beginning started off a little slow, but picked up once Barbara, the main character, started having questions about her new husband and his involvement with the death of the previous duchess, Lucrezia Medici. The characters were very three-dimensional; I especially loved how Loupas gave Barbara a little nervous habit–it made her seem more real.

Alfonso’s character–well, let’s just say he was typical for someone with a lot of power and control. At first I couldn’t stand him at all, but as the book progressed, I really started to see that he wasn’t ALL bad–just egocentric and a typical European prince 😛 I grew to like him as Barbara did.

Even Lucrezia, the last duchess, plays an important role as a character–even though she’s dead. I won’t go into much more about her–you’ll have to read it to see–but she definitely was a princess used to doing what she wanted regardless of the consequences.

This book is ultimately a historical mystery as Barbara tries to piece together how exactly the last duchess died (since she was only 17 when she did). There were lots of twists and turns that I certainly didn’t see coming. Loupas definitely kept me wondering.

The only main issue I had was the amount of detail. Don’t get me wrong–I love the detail because it makes it more real–but sometimes with all of the Italian terms, I got a little lost. There wasn’t a glossary so some of the words that were used threw me out of the story temporarily as I tried to figure out what they meant in the context of the sentence. That was my only problem though and it was mostly in the beginning where things were just getting set up. By the end I didn’t notice it as much.

Also, there are a few steamy scenes, but nothing too over-the-top, just as a warning. 🙂

Overall, 4/5.

Fury of the Phoenix Releases Today

Fury of the Phoenix, the sequel to Cindy Pon’s amazing fantasy novel, Silver Phoenix, releases today!

I have been looking forward to this book since I finished the last one. I’m so happy it’s finally here!

Also, Cindy is having a contest over on her blog to celebrate the release. To enter, you have to read the book first though. 🙂 Prizes include some amazing original brush paintings by Cindy herself. Check out the official rules here.

You can get some amazing swag just by posting or tweeting about the contest. I have to say, those postcards are seriously amazing.

Congrats, Cindy, on your second book release!

HFC 2011: Maid to Match, by Deeanne Gist

Summary from Goodreads:

From the day she arrives at the Biltmore, Tillie Reese is dazzled—by the riches of the Vanderbilts and by Mack Danvers, a mountain man turned footman. When Tillie is enlisted to help tame Mack’s rugged behavior by tutoring him in the ways of refined society, the resulting sparks threaten Tillie’s efforts to be chosen as Edith Vanderbilt’s lady’s maid.

But the stakes rise even higher when Mack and Tillie become entangled in a cover-up at the town orphanage. They could both lose their jobs…and their hearts.

Review:

I’ve read most of Deeanne Gist’s other books in the past and loved them and this one certainly didn’t disappoint. In fact, I think this one ranks up there as my favorite of hers that she’s written.

I loved how quickly and efficiently she introduced Tillie, the main character, and her love interest Mack. Their truly three dimensional and I had to keep reminding myself that I was reading about fictional people.

Though this is classified as Christian fiction/romance, Gist does a great job in making the characters’ faith not come across as sermonizing. I know I’ve read some Christian fiction where it seems like there’s a sermon on every page. The story takes precedence here, thankfully, while the characters’ faith is interwoven with their personalities.

For those who are uncomfortable with graphic love scenes, no worries here. Gist makes sure to tease us just a little, and swoon at the secret kisses and caresses, but keeps the “act” behind closed doors.

Only a few problems I had with this book:  first, the “bad guy” seemed like a bit of an afterthought. The story with him and how it affected Tille and Mack’s relationship didn’t really pick up until the second half of the book. But it wasn’t something that I thought took away from the story too much; there was enough tension and conflict between Tille and Mack earlier on to keep the pace going and the reader interested.

Second, though it’s a typical romance ending, it seemed a little too neatly tied up. Everything seemed perfect at the end, and I sort of wish there was just a little bit of something hanging…but that’s just me and my personal preference.

Overall, highly recommended, especially if you like turn-of-the-century romance.

4.5/5 stars

 

2011 Reading Challenges

So, I stumbled across a few reading challenges that I just had to participate in–even if a quarter of the year is almost over. 🙂

The first is the Classics Challenge over at Stiletto Storytime’s blog. You have to read anywhere from 5-40 classics from Jan.1-Dec. 31. I chose the easier “Bachelor’s Degree” level–10 classics between now and the end of the year. Classics have been harder for me to read just because of how many of them are written (despite the fact I was an English major…heh). I may end up going to the “Master’s” level if I finish before the end of the year, but for now I’ll stick with 10 that I’ve chosen…and that may change as the year goes on (check my tab at the top if you’re curious).

And there’s one other challenge I simply had to sign up for: Historical Fiction Reading Challenge! How could I miss that?! Most of the books I read are historical in some way (fantasy, YA or traditional) and I’ve already read two this year (though not counting them on my list). I signed up for the highest level on that one: Severe Bookaholism, 20 books. I’m pretty sure I can hit that before the end, or at least make a good effort!

Are you participating in any reading challenges this year? It’s not too late to sign up!

What’s On Your Reading List?

I don’t know about you but my TBR (to-be read) list is LONG. Currently on Goodreads, I think I have over 100 books 😛 Many of them are books that have yet to be released, but they’re there, waiting… 😛

Anyway, here’s what I’m currently reading. (I’m one of those that can read two or more books at once):

First, the long-awaited sequel to Aprilynne Pike’s Wings. I was never one for tales about fairies, but hers (along with Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series) are my favorite, simply because it isn’t the normal “Tinkerbell” pixie fairy that most of us picture. I’m on Chapter Six currently and tonight Aprilynne will be at my local bookstore promoting it, so I’m definitely looking forward to meeting her 🙂

Next one I’m currently reading–Michelle Moran’s Nefertiti. This was her debut book and I’ve read her other two: The Heretic Queen which is technically a loose sequel to Nefertiti and Cleopatra’s Daughter. Moran is wonderful and infusing history into the prose without going overboard with details. It can be a little hard to follow the names of the ancient Egyptians, but that’s to be expected. The story is wonderful so far and I’m really looking forward to when her fourth book is released, which will break from her ancient history settings and be set around the French Revolution.

And finally, the one I still have to pick up at the library: Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier. It’s loosely based of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale, and since I absolutely LOVE fairy tale/myth retellings, I had to put this on order. Plus, the cover is simply gorgeous.

So, what are you currently reading–or plan on reading?

Captured By the Written Word

Since I cannot think of a really spectacular, awe-inspiring post today, I’m going to re-post something from way back when I first started this blog. It’s about my love of storytelling and writing in general. Enjoy!

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I believe one of the reasons I’m so fond of writing is because I was captured by the written word at an early age. I simply cannot remember a time when I didn’t have a book in front of me.

It started very early:

And of course, it was my duty as a big sister to teach my little sister how to read:

My earliest memories go back to around 3 or so, and I can remember sitting on the living room floor, reading one of those big Disney books based off the movies (Sleeping Beauty was my favorite) and having my parents point the words out to me as they read the story out loud.

One of my dad’s favorite stories to tell (though I’m not sure how much truth there is to it, haha) is that at age four or five, I’m studying a cereal box and then ask what the word “carbohydrate” means. Of course I don’t really remember this particular story, but I did read the sides of cereal boxes all the time when I was little, so I suppose it’s not out of the question.

Anyway, I remember I started telling stories before I could write; I’d have my mom transcribe them for me. I have a whole huge folder of these stories, now faded by the years. Still it’s interesting to see what kind of story my four-year-old self came up with.

I used to love to watch Reading Rainbow too (proven by my post dedicated to the show here) I’d always try to rush to the library shortly after to get the books they recommended.

I had a lot of favorite childhood books, I was especially fond of The Giving Tree and Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein; Love You Forever by Robert Munsch and Sheila McGraw; and of course the funny Wayside School Stories (Sideways Stories from Wayside School; Wayside School is Falling Down; Wayside School Gets A Little Stranger). And then as I got older I loved the American Girl books; those books were, in fact, what got me started in writing historical fiction (as my first “novel” was written at age 11, all handwritten ) All of these books (and MANY more) helped shaped me into the writer I am now.

And of course I can’t forget the influence of family. My dad has always been one to weave stories around seemingly insignificant events, but somehow captures everyone’s attention. He doesn’t write any of them down (as they’re all based off his life) but he’s got a way of talking and grabbing your attention. His life has really been one amazing story and perhaps one day I’ll collaborate with my sister and we’ll write it all out.

Then of course my mom was the one who spent most of the time reading to me and helping me along too. I suppose I get the artistic gene from her since she was always good at drawing and art.

And my little sister (no longer “little” anymore). She and I would always come up with stories revolving around our dollhouse people, complete with names and character quirks. We did the same with our stuffed animals; we had complete histories for their little world and everything. And now, I’m happy to say, she’s becoming a writer too. She’s writes more along the lines of fantasy and sci-fi but that trait has worn off on her (maybe with some of my good sisterly influence :)).

So I’m posing the question to those who read my blog: do you remember what age you started to read? What were some of your favorite books as a child? Were there any children’s books that inspired you?

 

2010 Debut Author Challenge: The Iron King

Loved. This. Book.

The fairies in The Iron King are definitely not the “innocence and pixie dust” kind. Not even close. The Fey in this book are definitely darker and much more menacing. The Fey of mythology–the kind that people back in the old days would make charms for to prevent irking them or being a target.

In all the mythology I’ve read surrounding the Fey, the Summer and Winter courts and the sidhe in general, this is exactly the type of world that I would really be inclined to believe existed–a world of dark and terrifying creatures, ancient power and fey that thrive on making binding promises (like the kind for your first born or a memory or something equally as precious).

I could definitely relate to Meghan’s journey in this book. She was a perfect balance of strong and “hesitant” heroine–not too feisty but not a damsel in distress either. True she did rely on Puck and Ash and Grimalkin to get her out of many a scrape, but I’d suspect if most of us were plopped into a situation like hers at sixteen–or at any age–we’d probably react the same, if not more hesitant. There were plenty of instances that Meghan had to face where I probably would’ve wet myself, yet she kept her fear hidden well enough. But it was also nice to see her grow gradually as the book progressed and face each challenge with increasing confidence and bravery.

Loved the characters too. Puck had to be my absolute favorite. I think I’d choose him over Ash any day 🙂 The cat Grimalkin is a close second. If cats could speak, I’m certain Grimalkin echoes many a cat’s true thoughts, especially with their wily nature and unpredictability.

Definitely a highly recommended book, especially if you’re looking for the world of fey that’s not all magic and golden pixie dust.

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