Review: Blackhearts

Blackhearts, Nicole Castroman

Published: February 9th 2016 by Simon Pulse

Hardcover, 384 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

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Blackbeard the pirate was known for striking fear in the hearts of the bravest of sailors. But once he was just a young man who dreamed of leaving his rigid life behind to chase adventure in faraway lands. Nothing could stop him—until he met the one girl who would change everything.

Edward “Teach” Drummond, son of one of Bristol’s richest merchants, has just returned from a year-long journey on the high seas to find his life in shambles. Betrothed to a girl he doesn’t love and sick of the high society he was born into, Teach dreams only of returning to the vast ocean he’d begun to call home. There’s just one problem: convincing his father to let him leave and never come back.

Following her parents’ deaths, Anne Barrett is left penniless and soon to be homeless. Though she’s barely worked a day in her life, Anne is forced to take a job as a maid in the home of Master Drummond. Lonely days stretch into weeks, and Anne longs for escape. How will she ever realize her dream of sailing to Curaçao—where her mother was born—when she’s stuck in England?

From the moment Teach and Anne meet, they set the world ablaze. Drawn to each other, they’re trapped by society and their own circumstances. Faced with an impossible choice, they must decide to chase their dreams and go, or follow their hearts and stay.

How awesome is that cover?   I knew going in that this was a pre-piracy Blackbeard story. Castroman is very clear when talking about the book that she’s laying the foundation for his story – not venturing to sea with him.  So while the cover seems to promise drama on a pirate galleon, what we really get is drama in the drawing room that leads our future Blackbeard to his ship.  Was there ever drama.  

We have Anne, who is the illegitimate daughter of a British merchant and his Curacao born slave.  When her parents both die Anne is sent to work in the home of another wealthy merchant.  Anne crosses path with Edward “Teach” Drummond – the young and handsome son of the master of the house.  Let’s get out of the way that “Teach” was the lamest nickname possibly ever. It felt to me like a complete anachronism and just grated at my nerves every time I read it.  

While I like how Anne and Edward sparked at each other, I could not get past the inherent imbalance of power that was present in their relationship.  Anne was fantastic and I loved that Castroman’s main character was the daughter of a slave trying to set her own path.  But this was set in the late 1600’s and we’re talking about 1) a relationship between a servant and her boss’s son and 2) a multiracial relationship which was made way less than the big deal I would think it had to have been.  I just couldn’t get past those two issues to want these two to be together.  Then there was the rest of the background dramatics like unfaithful housemaids and Edward’s petty fiance.  It seemed like it was too obvious where each plot point was going.  

I was ready to stop this book, but I kept reading comments about the ending being completely brutal.  So for some perverse reason I kept reading – and I loved the ending!  I won’t spoil it – but really how can two people settle down in love and have the story lead to one of the most infamous pirates in history?  The ending was brave and honestly bumped this up a star for me.

2.5 stars

Thank you Simon Pulse and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

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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!

Review: Scarlett Undercover

Scarlett Undercover, Jennifer Latham

Amanda

Published May 19th 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Hardcover, 320 pages

Source: NetGalley

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From Goodreads…

Meet Scarlett, a smart, sarcastic, kick-butt, Muslim American heroine, ready to take on crime in her hometown of Las Almas. When a new case finds the private eye caught up in a centuries-old battle of evil genies and ancient curses, Scarlett discovers that her own family secrets may have more to do with the situation than she thinks — and that cracking the case could lead to solving her father’s murder.

I loved Scarlett! She had some sass and she is smart as can be.  We begin right in the action which honestly is not always my favorite. Scarlett is a 16 year-old high-school graduate and instead of looking ahead to college she’s working as a private detective.  Her parents have died and she lives with her older sister who is crazy busy in medical school so Scarlett is largely left to her own devices.  Our investigation begins when a young girl comes to ask Scarlett to prove that her older brother didn’t kill himself.  I did spend some time during the first third of the book wondering why exactly Scarlett got to be a teen detective– but when the explanation came clear I found myself nodding along at the book.  Yes a bit of suspension of disbelief, but it worked for me.

It was refreshing to read a book about a character who was so very different than your usual YA!  Scarlett is Muslim, but that’s just one facet of her.  She’s as conflicted about her obligations to religion as nearly any other teenaged girl.  She wants to listen to her older sister who is responsible for her, but also chafes at following rules.  Also, yay for some teenage romance that doesn’t dominate the book!  Scarlett has a crush, she acts on it –  but that’s not the end all and be all of her life then.  She doesn’t drop everything to listen to a boy.

There’s a suggestion of magic to the plot, but not this was definitely a mystery – not a fantasy novel.  Scarlett believes some day she can figure out why her father was murdered, even if the police have given up.  I loved that Scarlett was brave and determined, but not unwilling to ask for help.  She is sarcastic and funny even when she’s in over her head.

This was a really fun young adult debut and while there is no sequel planned right now I really hope to catch another case with Scarlett!

4 stars!

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

AND WAIT THERE’S MORE!

Holly and I are posting today on The Bubblebath Reader and will be all month about Lauren Willig’s The Garden Intrigue! Stop by!