Fast Friday Review: Rebel Queen

Rebel Queen, Michelle Moran

Hardcover, 355 pages

Published March 3rd 2015 by Touchstone

Source: ARC from 2015 ALA Midwinter Meeting

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When the British Empire sets its sights on India in the 1850s, it expects a quick and easy conquest. After all, India is not even a country, but a collection of kingdoms on the subcontinent. But when the British arrive in the Kingdom of Jhansi, expecting its queen to forfeit her crown, they are met with a surprise. Instead of surrendering, Queen Lakshmi raises two armies—one male, one female—and rides into battle like Joan of Arc. Although her soldiers are little match against superior British weaponry and training, Lakshmi fights against an empire determined to take away the land she loves.

Told from the perspective of Sita, one of the guards in Lakshmi’s all-female army and the queen’s most trusted warrior, The Last Queen of India traces the astonishing tale of a fearless ruler making her way in a world dominated by men.

I loved this book!  What I’ve read about India under the British has been only from the English perspective so I loved getting to read about India from the perspective of her own people.  The Queen of Jhansi keeps her own small service of women at arms, her Durga Dal, who are loyal only to her.  While the book description says that the this is the Queen’s story, I would say that Queen Lakshmi was amazing – but this was Sita’s story.

Sita was raised by her father to take the position in the palace – to rise from a poor village to live at the Queen’s side.  She dives right into the drama of the royal court and while she flourishes she is also trying to provide for the sister she left behind.  The tension between the British and the Indian people is high and the fallout heartbreaking.  You have to know going in that this is not going to be a happy story – but it was fascinating and wonderfully told.  

 This was my first Michelle Moran book but I will definitely be picking up her others! I’ve had my eye on Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution for a while now.  

 4 stars!

 Thank you Touchstone for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

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Review: The Forgotten Room

The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig

Hardcover, 384 pages

Expected publication: January 19th 2016 by Berkley/NAL

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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1945: When the critically wounded Captain Cooper Ravenal is brought to a private hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, young Dr. Kate Schuyler is drawn into a complex mystery that connects three generations of women in her family to a single extraordinary room in a Gilded Age mansion.

Who is the woman in Captain Ravenel’s portrait miniature who looks so much like Kate?  And why is she wearing the ruby pendant handed down to Kate by her mother?  In their pursuit of answers, they find themselves drawn into the turbulent stories of Gilded Age Olive Van Alen, driven from riches to rags, who hired out as a servant in the very house her father designed, and Jazz Age Lucy Young, who came from Brooklyn to Manhattan in pursuit of the father she had never known.  But are Kate and Cooper ready for the secrets that will be revealed in the Forgotten Room?

I was very curious to see how this book was done with 3 authors.  I think it has come across pretty clear that I am a big fan of Lauren Willig.  I have also really enjoyed what I’ve read by Beatrice Williams, but Karen White was new to me.  These ladies were great together!  I am really curious to learn more about how the writing process worked.  As we follow three women in the story, did each author write one?  The writing flowed pretty seamlessly so I am impressed if that’s what they did.  I think they’re already working on another book together and now i’m excited to learn about that project!  

We jump between time periods to meet Olive, who has begun working as a maid for the Pratt family after her architect father was disgraced by the Pratt patriarch and killed himself.  Next comes Lucy, who has fled her family’s German bakery after the death of her own parents to work as a legal secretary.  Then we have Kate, working as one of a very few female doctors receiving injured American soldiers returning from the front in Europe.  

I loved that the Pratt Mansion was just the first connection between generations.  I could see this beautiful old house in my mind as it transitioned from the design on paper created by Olive’s father, to the cold family manor where she served as a maid, then the single women’s apartments that Lucy lived in and finally the World War II hospital that Kate worked at.  The house and the attic room were almost characters in their own right.  They held their secrets well and released them with perfect timing.  

I admit at first I was a bit confused at the transitions at first and wondering how these ladies could connect to each other – but once I figured it out I was HOOKED.  The loves were sweet and the heartaches were brutal.  The clues that the authors left us to follow outside of the house were perfect I thought.  I loved how they kept popping up with a new story in each generation.  

I don’t think every book has to have a happy ending – and sometimes they’re better for it (see Hausfrau) but I was really afraid I’d be walking away disappointed in the end.  Thankfully these ladies pulled through for me and I was happy with the ending.  I can’t decide who my favorite was still!  Perhaps I’ll have to reread and decide.   

4 stars!

Thank you Berkley/NAL and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: The Book of Lost and Found

The Book of Lost and Found, Lucy Foley

Published August 25th 2015 by Back Bay Books

Paperback, 432 pages

Source: ARC from publisher
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From London to Corsica to Paris–as a young woman pursues the truth about her late mother, two captivating love stories unfurl.

Kate Darling’s enigmatic mother–a once-famous ballerina–has passed away, leaving Kate bereft. When her grandmother falls ill and bequeaths to Kate a small portrait of a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Kate’s mother, Kate uncovers a mystery that may upend everything she thought she knew.

Kate’s journey to find the true identity of the woman in the portrait takes her to some of the world’s most iconic and indulgent locales, revealing a love story that began in the wild 1920s and was disrupted by war and could now spark new love for Kate. Alternating between Kate’s present-day hunt and voices from the past, THE BOOK OF LOST AND FOUND casts light on family secrets and love-both lost and found.

Kate Darling has always known that her mother, June, was raised in an orphanage.  As Kate is grieving her mother’s unexpected death she is also losing her surrogate grandmother, Evie, to dementia.  When Evie in a moment of lucidity gives Kate a portrait of a woman calling herself Celia; who claimed to be June’s birth mother Kate feels even more lost.  Why did Evie never let her mother know about the mysterious Celia?  How much can she tell Kate about June’s birth?  Tracking the woman in the painting and the artist takes Kate from London to Corsica, Paris and New York and takes the reader back and forth in time from the 1980s to the Europe in the time of the World Wars.  

We alternate from Kate to a young man named Tom, who is falling in love with his friend Alice in the peace time between WWI and WWII.   While I enjoyed the way the story went back and forth in time from Kate’s perspective to Tom’s, when it switched into first person late in the book it threw me off.  I actually flipped back to make sure I hadn’t forgotten that this had been happening before.  Aside from that interrupting my reading I really liked the flow back and forth from Kate and Tom.  I thought the pacing was perfect for the mysteries of Tom to Alice to Celia to unfold.  I enjoyed discovering the truth with Kate and I loved the setting in Corsica.  I felt like I was there in the sun and experiencing the island myself.  It was a bonus to have a new romance developing as I read about a history full of heartbreak.   I had some guesses about how things would turn out – and I was pleased not to have seen all the twists coming.  The path from Kate to Celia was far richer than I expected.  

This book will leave you thinking about what kind of decisions you might make for your loved ones and what kind of secrets we keep.  I think it would be a great book club book to hear others’ thoughts on the choices that Kate, Evie and Celia made and what kind of choices we might make in those shoes.  

4 stars!

Thank you Back Bay Books for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Saying Goodbye to the Pink Carnation Series

Last September, we started the Bubble Bath Reader’s Pink for All Seasons – a year long read-along of Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, timed to finish with the release of the 12th and final book in the series.

These books are fun and fabulous and full of interesting historical tidbits. We’ve done quick summaries on the books so far – click for books 1-3, books 4-6, and books 7-9. (And if you notice that the reading order is listed differently in different places, here’s Willig’s official list.)

And, so it ends here, with books 10, 11, and 12:

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The Passion of the Purple Plumeria (2011)

Synopsis: When the younger sister of Jane Wooliston (AKA our Pink Carnation) goes missing from her boarding school in London, Jane and her faithful chaperone Miss Gwen search for her, and along the way meet Colonel William Reid, whose daughter disappeared from school as well. Miss Gwen and Col. Reid get to know each other quite well in the search. In modern England, Eloise reads Miss Gwen’s gothic novel, 200 years after it’s one-hit-wonder debut.

Holly: I definitely enjoyed the relationship between Miss Gwen and the good Colonel, especially the time Miss Gwen dropped the line “we had a satisfactory romp; that’s all.” Things I did not love about this book, however, include Jane’s moodiness and Jeremy’s sliminess.

Amanda: I admit that I had a good sulk when Lauren originally announced this book.  I did not want to read anymore about Miss Gwen except as Jane’s chaperone.  I wanted a book about Tommy (See the Temptation of the Night Jasmine)!  But then I read The Passion of the Purple Plumeria and I fell in love with Colonel Reid and Miss Gwen.  I loved how she tried to boss him around and how he just doesn’t fall into line with what she wanted.  So I apologize Lauren for doubting your judgement of your own stories!    

The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla (2014)

Synopsis: Sally Fitzhugh, whose root-vegetable-named brother we got to know quite well back in Pink #5, stumbles into the garden of the mysterious (and rumored vampire) Duke of Belliston, and ends up helping him uncover the truth about his family. Back in the 21st century, Eloise returns to grad school in Cambridge, MA, and has trouble with her advisor.

Holly: I read some reviews hating on this book for being a far cry from the start of the series, as the actual-spy contact is limited, and, well, there’s the vampire thing. However, I adored Sally and Lucien!  And, while I would have fully supported Eloise if she decided not to return to grad school, I am glad she had a chance to come to the right decision for her.

Amanda:  I’m glad I didn’t know my sister had read hating reviews because I was already apprehensive due to all the hints about the stoat.  I mean – who wants to read about a stoat?  But Sally was a delight!  So there wasn’t a spy connection – big deal – is a creepy murder not enough for people?! Loved the glimpse at a happy Turnip with his bride.

The Lure of the Moonflower (2015)

Synopsis: At last, the final book in the Pink series brings Jane’s story – we find Jane on assignment in Portugal, looking for a missing queen and forced to rely on Jack Reid for tactical help along with way. We get a conclusion to the Colin and Eloise storyline as well, but not without some final hijinks from one of our previous villains.

Holly: I am glad Jane got her story, and I’m so glad to have been a part of the Pink for All Seasons readalong. There are parts of this book that I quite enjoyed, but parts that didn’t quite sit well. Both Jane and her parents seemed like entirely different characters than those we’d gotten to know in previous books. Though, to be fair, that’s exactly what Lauren has done throughout the series – characters like Mary Alsworthy and Turnip Fitzhugh become totally different people once brought into the spotlight. The difference is, I guess, that I liked Mary and Turnip better after getting to know them, and Jane less.

Amanda:  I was totally surprised as this book began at how Jane ended up in Portugal.  As Holly said, Jane’s parents sounded like totally different people than those we met in the Passion of the Purple Plumeria. This annoyed me but I went with the story because since I’ve loved and trusted Jane all these years I kind of had to.  I did love Jane and Jack together, even if things were a bit too convenient in the end.  Maybe everything wrapped up a bit too well – including Eloise and Colin – but it was really a satisfying ending to a series I’ve really enjoyed.  If Lauren writes more Pink books I will read them!

Review: Girl Waits with Gun

Girl Waits With Gun, Amy Stewart

Published September 1st 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Hardcover, 416 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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Constance Kopp doesn’t quite fit the mold. She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters into hiding fifteen years ago. One day a belligerent and powerful silk factory owner runs down their buggy, and a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he unleashes his gang on their family farm. When the sheriff enlists her help in convicting the men, Constance is forced to confront her past and defend her family — and she does it in a way that few women of 1914 would have dared.

Seriously, don’t you want to read this book just looking at the cover?  It’s fabulous!  

When a wildly driven car crashes into her family’s buggy Constance Kopp starts her sisters down a path that alters their lives completely.  The Kopp sisters have lived independently on their farm since their mother’s death.  They’re stretched fairly thin, but wouldn’t have it any other way.  Everyone they meet is sure they must need a male protector to rescue them – but they most definitely do not.  Marriage is not an option for the older sisters; and though their older brother continually offers them a place in his home they turn him down each time.  

Constance realizes that the loss of the buggy is more than she and her sisters can afford and sends a letter to the driver of the car, Henry Kaufman, requesting that he pay $50 for repairs.  When her letters are ignored Constance travels to his silk dyeing factory and learns Kaufman is a powerful bully with a gang of drunken followers and that she has put herself and her sisters directly into his sights.  As I read I had to keep reminding myself that this was really Constance Kopp’s life – and what a life!  Union busting, the Black Hand, kidnapping threats and bricks thrown through windows.  I kept thinking – I’d back out of this NOW and she kept bravely forging on ahead.  

There was no gripping mystery to be solved, but I was still caught up in the book to see if Constance could out maneuver Kaufman.  Could she get her $50 and keep her sisters safe?  Would the Kopp sisters leave the farm that they were so determined to keep for themselves?  I won’t spoil these questions for you, but you should read to find out!  I appreciated the thorough afterword that laid out what was fact vs. fiction and I think Stewart added well where she did.  The use of the newspaper headlines was really great – especially when they were about Constance herself! 

Constance Kopp was a woman ahead of her time and I really enjoyed her story.  The pacing was a bit slow for me at times, but this didn’t happen over a short period of time and perhaps that’s reflected in the way Stewart did pace it out.  I am very curious about how Constance’s life continued after she became the first female deputy sheriff and I wonder if there’s another book in the works?  

4 stars!

Thank you to TJ at My Book Strings for bringing this book to my attention earlier this year!  

Thank you Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.  

We’re Reading Mortal Heart

It’s time to revisit everyone’s favorite teenage assassin nuns! By that, we mean the characters of Robin LeFevers’ His Fair Assassins  trilogy. We have already read and reviewed Grave Mercy (here, here, and here) and Dark Triumph (here, here, and here). In a nutshell, we’re in 15th century Brittany, following the stories of three novitiates at the convent of Saint Mortain, a.k.a. the god of death.

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Yeah, it’s bizarre. Just go with it.

The third book of the series follows Annith, who has grown up at the convent after being dropped there as an infant. She is bright, deceptive, and deadly – and she’s determined to find out why her two less skilled friends Ismae and Sybella have already been sent out on missions to save the Duchy of Brittany while she remains on a tight leash at the convent.

Until she sneaks out to find some answers.  

Amanda: Did you start Mortal Heart?

Holly: Yes! While I was slow to warm up to the first book, I’m totally hooked by now. I want to know what Annith is going to find out! And, I love her. She is smarter than Ismae and has much better people skills than Sybella. Game on.

Amanda: I tried to explain this book to J, and he was not happen with my description. There is no Catholicism, right?

Holly: No. There is something about “the 9” which reminds me of Game of Thrones because they have “the old gods” and “the seven” But anyway, I found this handy explanation on the author’s site.

Amanda: Cool. How far are you? [Trying to see if my sister has already gotten to where Annith has snuck out of the convent and is running around with the hellequin.]

Holly: I wish I could remember some details about the first two books since there’s some overlapping. I am trying to remember if we should know these hellequin.

Amanda: Check out these awesome recaps. [Thank you @Recaptains! and @ChristinaJuneYA for telling me about them]

Holly: [Has not read these yet. Don’t tell my sister.] I am worried about the hellequin. I think they might be dead guys.

[Reads furthers and googles]

(Thanks Wikipedia)

The name Harlequin is taken from that of a mischievous “devil” or “demon” character in popular French passion plays. It originates with an Old French term herlequin, hellequin, first attested in the 11th century, by the chronicler Orderic Vitalis, who recounts a story of a monk who was pursued by a troop of demons when wandering on the coast of Normandy at night. These demons were led by a masked, club-wielding giant and they were known as familia herlequin (var. familia herlethingi). This medieval French version of the Germanic Wild Hunt, Mesnée d’Hellequin, has been connected to the English figure of Herla cyning (“host-king”; German Erlkönig) Hellequin was depicted a black-faced emissary of the devil, roaming the countryside with a group of demons chasing the damned souls of evil people to Hell.

Yes, these are definitely dead guys.

Amanda: Well I’m a bit more nervous about the hellequin I have to say.  I think Annith is awesome and I can’t wait to see her get a chance to kick some ass!

Now I really don’t want to talk anymore – I really need to get back to reading this. (Alternating with Dumplin’ and I’m doubly in love!)

Review: Lair of Dreams

Lair of Dreams, Libba Bray (The Diviners #2)

Publication: August 25th 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Hardcover, 624 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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From Goodreads

After a supernatural showdown with a serial killer, Evie O’Neill has outed herself as a Diviner. Now that the world knows of her ability to “read” objects, and therefore, read the past, she has become a media darling, earning the title, “America’s Sweetheart Seer.” But not everyone is so accepting of the Diviners’ abilities…

Meanwhile, mysterious deaths have been turning up in the city, victims of an unknown sleeping sickness. Can the Diviners descend into the dreamworld and catch a killer?

As I said in my recent review, I was pos-i-tute-ly entranced by my first Libba Bray book, The Diviners, and I was eager to dive into Lair of Dreams to find out where the story continued.  Consider yourself warned, spoilers ahead for The Diviners!

Again Bray made me feel like I was really in New York City in the 1920’s.  In this case bouncing between Chinatown, Broadway and into the subways themselves.  Bray also totally caught me up emotionally – forbidden love affairs, mysterious government agencies, an unexplainable sickness, children led astray and the all over ick feeling that comes from reading about the eugenics movement and the Klan.  The sense of magic woven in with the setting was just so well done again. 

At the end of Book #1 Evie went public with her ability to read a person’s past with a personal object.  The city is mad for Diviners now and Evie is eating up the attention.  She is living large – and alone.  She doesn’t see her Uncle WIll or Jericho really and she’s so busy being famous she doesn’t see a lot of Theta or Mabel – though there is plenty of time with Sam which I did like!  I did miss that sense of camaraderie that I felt with the characters in the Diviners.  Yes, we had new groups forming to work together, but they seemed to have more of their own agendas going in this book.  I hope the next book brings Evie back into the fold though I am nervous about love triangles for her!  Evie has such potential to grow up and be amazing – I hope she snaps out of the speakeasy scene so we can see her do that.

As much as I like Evie, what I also enjoyed about this book was getting into the other diviners and what they can do.  The diversity of the characters is fantastic!  The dream walking was crazy cool- and nerve wracking. I was basically nervous the whole book every time someone went to sleep about whether they’d wake up.  I was nearly afraid to go to bed in the beginning.  I love Memphis and I am very curious to see where he goes with his decisions to use his skills to heal or not.  I love him with Theta and I’m also anxious over that relationship!    

In all honesty, I didn’t like this all over as much as The Diviners – I felt I could predict a bit more what was going to happen and the mystery was creepy but just not my favorite.  However Lair of Dreams was still a great follow-up that leaves me eager to read still more of Bray’s world.  I can’t wait to learn more about the government involvement and about the divining talents that are still being kept secret.  What is this all building up to?!

3.5 stars

Thank you Little Brown Books for Young Readers and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!