[Review] The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

Bry's Reviews, Reviews 0 Comments 5th April, 2014

This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.
[Review] The Birth of Venus by Sarah DunantThe Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant
Published by Random House on November 30th, 2004
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 364
Source: Purchase
Goodreads
Alessandra Cecchi is not quite fifteen when her father, a prosperous cloth merchant, brings a young painter back from northern Europe to decorate the chapel walls in the family's Florentine palazzo. A child of the Renaissance, with a precocious mind and a talent for drawing, Alessandra is intoxicated by the painter's abilities.

But their burgeoning relationship is interrupted when Alessandra's parents arrange her marriage to a wealthy, much older man. Meanwhile, Florence is changing, increasingly subject to the growing suppression imposed by the fundamentalist monk Savonarola, who is seizing religious and political control. Alessandra and her native city are caught between the Medici state, with its love of luxury, learning, and dazzling art, and the hellfire preaching and increasing violence of Savonarola's reactionary followers. Played out against this turbulent backdrop, Alessandra's married life is a misery, except for the surprising freedom it allows her to pursue her powerful attraction to the young painter and his art.

The Birth of Venus is a tour de force, the first historical novel from one of Britain's most innovative writers of literary suspense. It brings alive the history of Florence at its most dramatic period, telling a compulsively absorbing story of love, art, religion, and power through the passionate voice of Alessandra, a heroine with the same vibrancy of spirit as her beloved city.

Aw, man… this book had me quite pleased, and I was well enjoying it, until the unraveling at the ending. Boo.

We begin this book with a young girl, in the flourish of a beautifully described, beautifully constructed Medici Florence, and are treated to wonderfully written aspects of the artistry and ambiance of the magnificent heart of the Renaissance.

Our protagonist, Alessandra Cecchi, is a skilled artist and painter in her preadolesence, and comes face to face with the intoxicating intrigue of the art world when her father employs a painter to handle the family chapel – a painter that Alessandra cannot keep away from. Though I found Alessandra’s relationship with her family to awkwardly difficult to relate to, the tale moved forward with the potential for great interest – the main character is soon married to a man who turns out to be both what she could most desire in a mate yet entirely ill-suited for her, and she still bears a passionate interest for a painter patronized by her family, all while the very foundation of Florence thunders and shakes with violence and the tyranny of Savanarola. For this reason, I dove into this book with great pleasure and interest.

Sure, the plot was fairly predictable, and so conspicuously foreshadowed, but for the majority, I welcomed the inevitable ‘plots twists’. But when you go “Surprise! You’re the unknown lovechild of none other than Lorenzo de Medici!”, your credibility goes out the window with me. Especially when it is followed with something as ridiculous as the ‘unconfirmed identity’ of Alessandra’s painter lover… ugh. I had hoped what I had already discerned, would be proven wrong, and I was not. As I have expressed in other reviews, I am extremely excited to see the historical figured I am most passionate about come alive in books, but when they are used as pawns for less than perfect plot ‘twists’ that come at you with the subtlety of a truck, I become offended. Leave my historical figures alone, if they are not to be dealt with in educated respect.

The book then ends rather swiftly, giving closure to the mystery presented in the prologue in a way that seems to dismiss, or diminish it. It felt rather rushed, and I wonder after 300+ pages, this was not treated with the descriptive tenderness the author obviously maintained in the opening and development of the book.

[Giveaway] Raining Romance Books Giveaway Hop

Giveaways 24 Comments 4th April, 2014

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Welcome to another great giveaway at Romancing the Laser Pistol. We are proud to be giving away an amazing prizepack including a $10 Amazon Giftcard as well as copies of Wallflower Gone Wild, The Wicked Wallflower, Hard as it Gets, Hard as You Can, Kiss of Steel, and Heart of Iron. This giveaway is part of the Raining Romance Books Giveaway Hop hosted by Stuck In Books. Good luck to everyone and happy reading.

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[Review] Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens

Amy's Reviews, Reviews 0 Comments 3rd April, 2014

This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.
[Review] Faking Normal by Courtney C. StevensFaking Normal Series: coming of age, contemporary, mystery, realistic fiction, romance, sociology, young adult
Published by HarperTeen on February 25, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 321
Source: Purchase
Goodreads
four-stars
Amazon
Alexi Littrell hasn't told anyone what happened to her over the summer. Ashamed and embarrassed, she hides in her closet and compulsively scratches the back of her neck, trying to make the outside hurt more than the inside does.

When Bodee Lennox, the quiet and awkward boy next door, comes to live with the Littrells, Alexi discovers an unlikely friend in "the Kool-Aid Kid," who has secrets of his own. As they lean on each other for support, Alexi gives him the strength to deal with his past, and Bodee helps her find the courage to finally face the truth.

A searing, poignant book, Faking Normal is the extraordinary debut novel from an exciting new author-Courtney C. Stevens.

So my dive into contemporary YA novels continues with Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens. Only this time it is with a book that has a much darker and at most times emotional story line. The story is about Alexi, a girl struggling with a dark secret. The book opens on a funeral, and the day Alexi decides to befriend Bodee at this mom’s funeral. Alexi and Bodee connect because they both have stories to share. Stories that will change not only their lives, but the lives of those around them. These stories and secrets are so life changing that some people could get hurt if they ever come out. After Bodee’s mom dies it is no secret that Bodee’s dad is the one that murdered her. Bodee is the only witness to the crime, so he must decide if he is going to testify or hide because he is afraid of his father. Alexi hides in her closet because her secret is too big to deal with, and she would rather runaway and pretend than deal with it.

One day Bodee comes to live with Alexi’s family because his brother is only nineteen and too overwhelmed to take care of his teenage little brother. So the friendship between Alexi and Bodee grows as they discover that they are stronger when they each have somebody they can lean on.

The twitter hashtag for this book is find your brave. I love that because that is what this book is all about. It is a story about being brave enough to heal and take your life back after the unthinkable happens. I really liked how Alexi is able to realize that what happened to her is not her fault and finally “find her brave”. It comes out that Alexi is raped. She never outright says no but she doesn’t say yes. The person who rapes is older so it is by law statutory rape. This is what Alexi has to do deal with. How do you accuse someone of rape when you didn’t say no. Alexi hides in a closet, scratching herself, and trying to pretend this awful thing didn’t happen. I liked one part in the book when she tells Bodee that he needs to testify and telling will help him heal. I liked that Bodee calls her out and doesn’t let her hide because he says if I tell then you have to tell as well.

I think that is what I liked most about Bodee, he is the one person he can see through the act and calls Alexi out. Because being brave is not just about how tough one is in dangerous situations. Being brave is about having the strength to come out of hiding, make the hard accusations that could ruin someone’s life, and take your life back.

I highly recommend this book because they story is thought provoking and powerful. I liked the story of bravery and I cheered Bodee and Alexi as they took those steps and took back their lives. I found Faking Normal so engrossing that I would read it at home and listen to it at work and in the car. This story was one that I could not put down and had a shocking revelation that I never saw coming. Go read this book, I give Faking Normal four stars because even though the subject was dark and gritty, the ending left me on a nice cloud of happiness and hope.

[ARC Review] God’s Daughter

Uncategorized 0 Comments 30th March, 2014

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

[ARC Review] God’s DaughterGod's Daughter by Heather Day Gilbert
Series: Vikings of the New World #1
Published by Independent by Author on 2013
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 267
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads
three-stars
One Viking woman. One God. One legendary journey to North America.

In the tenth century, when pagan holy women rule the Viking lands, Gudrid turns her back on her training as a seeress to embrace Christianity. Clinging to her faith, she joins her husband, Finn, on a voyage to North America.

But even as Gudrid faces down murderous crewmen, raging sickness, and hostile natives, she realizes her greatest enemy is herself--and the secrets she hides might just tear her marriage apart.

Almost five centuries before Columbus, Viking women sailed to North America with their husbands. God's Daughter, Book One in the Vikings of the New World Saga, offers an expansive yet intimate look into the world of Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir--daughter-in-law of Eirik the Red, and the first documented European woman to have a child in North America.

As vikings are my heritage and in my blood, this was a must pick up for me, and it was an enjoyable read.

The book begins with our protagonist Gudrid, witnessing the death of her mother by hanging as a sacrifice to Thor. Immediately, we are acquainted with Gudrid’s hatred of Thor for this loss, and her inspiration to reject Viking myth and lore in favor of the Christian religion. Very briefly, the events of Gudrid’s adolescent life are extrapolated- after the death of her mother, her father soon followed and so she was taken in and trained by a volva (viking mystic). When these foster parents passed, she ultimately came into the care of Eirik the Red, who she identifies with as family more than any previous. She has been married twice before, and now has a child, Snorri, with her third husband, Finn. However, she still harbours a deep love for Leif – yes, Leif Erikson – which leaves conflict in her heart.

The bulk of God’s Daughter takes place in the New World settlement Gudrid has traveled to with her husband, on the quest of finding Vinland and plunder. The settlement is besieged with the threat of discord, unruly disobedient men, and Skraeling (natives) invasion, and as a result Gudrid must confront fear of assault, murder, sickness, and even crippling depression if she is to survive to see her homeland again.

Based on this first novel, I find that the series is not exactly appropriately named. Rather than “Vikings of the New World”, this series would be far more accurate described as “Viking Women in the New World”, for the book not only comes from a strong female perspective, but focuses a vast majority of its attention on female roles and characters. In fact, the men of this book do very little other than to serve as ‘protectors’, sail away, or provide distraction for brief interludes. In comparison, the women provide the compelling vein of the story, as are they the characters who provide depth and complexity. From navigating their roles in the community absent of men, and mitigating their female perspectives from various origins (Sweden, Finland, slaves, etc), and caring for or bearing children, these characters exemplify the vast responsibilities of Viking women. As a historian I have a strong grasp of the power and influence of females within the Viking community, and this is very well represented in Gilbert’s writing.

Surprisingly, religion was not a major point of contention in God’s Daughter, as I had assumed from the implications of the title and synopsis. Perhaps this is a topic that will resurface in later books, for this is obviously not meant to be a stand-alone novel. There was great acceptance of Gudrid’s religious devotions, and though the communities often seemed to house both Norse and Christian believers, there was little conflict over the issue, and overall, just very little mention. This was something I appreciated, for it allowed the story to have substance, rather than to harp solely on one issue.

My biggest complaint with God’s Daughter is the amount of male attention Gudrid receives, and its inevitability in driving the story forward. It is understandable that she is a beautiful, influential and strong woman, but that she is already struggling with her love for both her husband and Leif, its somewhat annoying, and borders close to Mary-Sue, for the constant reminder that she is desired by other men. And in a camp with so many women and so little men, how is it the unavailable one is receiving the most attention? If any issue was driving the book, it would be this overabundance of male attention, and I truly hope this dies down in the later books.

Will I pick up the next book? Potentially. I can’t say its one I am clamoring to find, but if it comes my way, I may pick it up, just to follow these characters into the next stage.

[ARC Review] Wallflower Gone Wild by Maya Rodale

Amy's Reviews, ARC Reviews, Reviews 0 Comments 26th March, 2014

I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.
[ARC Review] Wallflower Gone Wild by Maya RodaleWallflower Gone Wild by Maya Rodale
Series: Bad Boys & Wallflowers #2
Published by HarperCollins on 2014-03-25
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Regency, Romance
Pages: 384
Source: Edelweiss
Goodreads
four-stars
Amazon
Being good has worked out very badly for Lady Olivia Archer. All she has to show for four seasons on the marriage mart is the nickname Prissy Missy. Her prospects are so bleak that her parents have betrothed her to a stranger with a dire reputation. If Phinneas Cole—aka The Mad Baron—wants a biddable bride, perhaps Olivia can frighten him off by breaking every ladylike rule.

Phinn has admired Olivia’s poise and refinement from afar…qualities that appear to have vanished now that they are officially engaged. This Olivia is flirtatious, provocative, and wickedly irresistible. She’s not at all the woman he bargained for, yet she’s the only one he wants.

He’s determined to woo her. She’s determined to resist. But Olivia is discovering there’s nothing so appealing as a fiancé who’s mad, bad, and dangerously seductive…

First, let me say that I absolutely loved the first book, The Wicked Wallflower. I am a sucker for shy wallflowers and the irresistible rakes that fall for them. I don’t know why I really really liked Wallflower Gone Wild, but I didn’t love it.

This book is about Oliva, the least likely to misbehave. All her life Oliva has been told that is she stands up straighter, goes to all the right parties, makes polite conversation, and pretty much follows all the rules her overbearing mother sets, then the men will line up to marry such a well behaved young woman. Four seasons on the marriage mart pass and Olivia finds that men actually run from her, not towards her. Of course, her parents are not pleased and arrange her marriage to a perfectly respectable, and an all together not bad looking, gentleman. The problem is that this gentleman is also the notorious Mad Barron. Olivia is scared for the Mad Barron allegedly murdered his first wife. Olivia misbehaves in hopes of scaring the Mad Barron away.

Things I liked about the book: it was cute, funny in parts, quite romantic, and of course the Mad Barron, aka Phinn, is a very swoony leading man. To elaborate, I liked the mischief Olivia finds herself in as she sets out to prove that she actually not the least likely to misbehave, but the most likely. There were parts that had me cracking up. I especially liked when Oliva paints her face up like a clown. I liked that Phinn is actually a socially awkward engineer and he relies on the advice of friends for how to woo a lady. I loved the advice of “never refer to lady as a feat of strength”. The pickup lines had me rolling around in stitched.

The thing I didn’t like the most that brought this book down to four stars? The actual relationship between Olivia and Phinn. I felt that Olivia was too fixated on the murderer thing. All through the book it was just an excuse, because she was actually afraid to find out who she could truly be. The book is more than half way over before she starts to think maybe the rumors are false. One would think since society has made up false nicknames for her that Olivia might be more understanding. No, it takes the book being almost over before she has an epiphany. Now I will move on from this because despite Olivia and her stubbornness, Wallflower Gone Wild is actually quite an enjoyable read. I can’t wait to read the third book in this series. Wallflower Gone Wild left me on a nice cloud of happy.

[ARC Review] The Book of Maggie Bradstreet by Gretchen Gibbs

ARC Reviews, Bry's Reviews, Reviews 0 Comments 25th March, 2014

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

[ARC Review] The Book of Maggie Bradstreet by Gretchen GibbsThe Book of Maggie Bradstreet by Gretchen Gibbs
Published by Glenmere Publishing on March 29th, 2012
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 196
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads
one-half-stars
Maggie Bradstreet is a curious girl of thirteen with a mind of her own, which can get her into trouble in Puritan New England. She wants nothing more than to prove to her brother's friend Job that she is no longer a child, but when witches are discovered in their community of Andover, Massachusetts, her world turns upside down. Maggie's diary tells of excitement turned to horror as more and more people are accused of witchcraft, and her best friend's mother is taken off to jail. She tries to save her friends and in the end must save herself. The Book of Maggie Bradstreet, a multigenerational account that chronicles a romance and adventure during a fascinating period in US history, is biographical fiction based on historical records about the author's ancestors. Like others in Colonial Andover, Margaret Bradstreet witnessed firsthand the bullying, touch test trials, and arrests of her friends and neighbors. Readers will find the untold and remarkable story of what happened in Colonial Andover as riveting as literary classics that portray the well-known Salem witch trials. Includes a map and afterword with additional historical content

The Book of Maggie Bradstreet screams ‘Young Adult fiction’ – and that is not a compliment.

The book is written from an interesting and new perspective on the retelling of the Salem (and surrounding area) witch trials in the 1690s by constructing the tale in a series of personal diary entries. The diary’s author, young Maggie Bradstreet, is the daughter of a well to do and influential family in the community of Andover, who comes face to face with the horrors of witch hysteria when suspicion and fear overrun town order. At first, Maggie recapitulates the first incidents of arrests and accusations with mundane emotional distance, but as those closest to her fall victim to pointing fingers, Maggie is confronted with the reality that her world may never be the same again.

Unfortunately, the Book of Maggie Bradstreet is an accurate representation of the the weaknesses that hold down Young Adult historical fiction. The material of the Salem witch hunts is fascinating, but is treated somewhat hamfistedly to almost deflate the importance or the intrigue of this moment of historical insanity. Constructing the tale within a diary opened a world of possibility for reflection, fear, and insight – yet these components were haphazardly included, second to less important musings.

With respect to the fact that the author drew on legitimate primary source materials, referencing true life figures from whom she is descended, I found the characters to be flat, and dull – another serious problem with YA. For a character praised for being clever, Maggie is incredibly simple minded, and it is extremely difficult to connect to a young girl whose internal dialogue could be summarized as “witches are being hanged, but why doesn’t that boy pay attention to me?” While others struggle to clear their family names, Maggie is concerned with the vibrancy of her dress fabrics, and other completely mindless fancies. Admittedly, she is supposed to be on the cusp between preadolescence and young womanhood, yet for that reason I would expect more intelligent thoughts and concerns. This need to inject romance into an environment that should be founded on fear, is needless, and frustrating beyond words. Additionally, as our only objective view at the other characters is through Maggie’s lens, no one else can supplement her stale reverie with greater depth. The only character who seems to have any substance is Polly, Maggie’s poor friend, who when arrested on suspicion of witchcraft, develops a sense of class resentment against her friend — and even that is a moment in passing.

For a very brief read, perhaps the essentialization of extremely complex issues was intended to drive the story, but overall, the Book of Maggie Bradstreet could have earned benefit had it expected a little more from its readers by offering elegance, introspection, and less banality.

[ARC Review] Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims by Toby Clements

ARC Reviews, Bry's Reviews, Reviews 0 Comments 20th March, 2014

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

[ARC Review] Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims by Toby ClementsKingmaker: Winter Pilgrims by Toby Clements
Published by Cornerstone Digital on April 10th
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 464
Goodreads
four-stars
February, 1460: in the bitter dawn of a winter's morning a young nun is caught outside her priory walls by a corrupt knight and his vicious retinue.

In the fight that follows, she is rescued by a young monk and the knight is defeated. But the consequences are far-reaching, and Thomas and Katherine are expelled from their religious Orders and forced to flee across a land caught in the throes of one of the most savage and bloody civil wars in history: the Wars of the Roses.

Their flight will take them across the Narrow Sea to Calais where Thomas picks up his warbow, and trains alongside the Yorkist forces. Katherine, now dressed as a man, hones her talents for observation and healing both on and off the fields of battle. And all around them, friends and enemies fight and die as the future Yorkist monarch, Edward, Earl of March, and his adviser the Earl of Warwick, later to become known as the Kingmaker, prepare to do bloody battle.

Encompassing the battles of Northampton, Mortimer's Cross and finally the great slaughter of Towton, this is war as experienced not by the highborn nobles of the land but by ordinary men and women who do their best just to stay alive. Filled with strong, sympathetic characters, this is a must-read series for all who like their fiction action-packed, heroic and utterly believable.

The Wars of the Roses is a very difficult topic to cover; considering the countless parties of interests and the constantly changing tenuous loyalties, but here is a book that does it well.

Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims is the story of monastic canon Thomas Everingham, and nun Katherine, who are of the same diocese and  meet unexpectedly one night when they are attacked outside cloister walls while attending to their duties. After Thomas defends Katherine and the nun accompanying her, their violent attacker promises retribution, in the form of rape, murder and the destruction of their order. Only a night thereafter, both Katherine and Thomas are forced to leave their orders, due to the individualized fallout of that night – Thomas is forced to confront their attacker when he arrives demanding Thomas’s life, and Katherine suffers at the hands of the prioress which leads to confrontation. Both are left with no choice but to flee. Unfortunately, Katherine had been brought to the nunnery as an oblate and therefore knows no other life, while what little remains of Thomas’s family would welcome him.

The story then follows these two as they avoid being declared apostates, and end up in the service of nobles (with Katherine disguised as a young boy named ‘Kit’ for a majority of the book), which inevitably leads to direct involvement in many conflicts of the Wars of the Roses. Forced out of their religious lives, the two are made to confront a world they barely know, which is tumultuous and rife with conflict and war. Thomas becomes a seasoned archer who earns the favor of high ranking York nobles including Edward of York, and Katherine develops an extraordinary gift for healing and surgery, which benefits even the Earl of Warwick.

Before I can discuss what I liked about this book,  it has to be said that this entire book is written in present tense. This is an extremely odd choice on the author’s part and can require some getting used to. It is especially an odd choice for a history novel, for more than any other form of book, history novels are referring to the past and not something happening right NOW. So, expect a little awkwardness as you grow accustomed to this.

This book is violence, through and through. I do not say that as a negative for it is very reflective of the time period, and respectful of the context. The unwarranted and unfair violence that opens this book is highly representative of the volatility that characterizes England in the later 15th century, and also comments on the paradoxes of monastic life, where cruelty from the outside was equally mirrored by the cruelty within. Following through various wars, the violence that permeates all aspects of life robs Thomas and Katherine of their innocence and often leaves them questioning God’s choices, and their own directions.

Because this book doesn’t shy away from violence, it is unsurprising that the gruesomeness of Early Modern medicine is treated with the same candid approach. There are graphic detailings of an anal fistula operation and trepanning, to name the most cringe-worthy. However, as someone who appreciates historical realism, I appreciated this even as I squirmed. Indeed, the author was very diligent to incorporate even small references to aspects of Early Modern life that added to the overall character of his setting – from scrofula and clipping ears as a form of punishment, to the value of manuscripts and books, to the total hodgepodge that was monarchical loyalty. The time period truly comes alive, and feels natural.

Overall, this was a book I enjoyed reading, and would read again. And if you’re into historical fiction, war, and the Wars of the Roses, this would be a great book to pick up… if you can adjust to the present tense narration.

[ARC Review] The Collector of Dying Breaths by M.J. Rose

ARC Reviews, Bry's Reviews, Reviews 1 Comment 14th March, 2014

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

[ARC Review] The Collector of Dying Breaths by M.J. RoseThe Collector of Dying Breaths by M.J. Rose
Published by Atria Books on April 8th, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads
three-stars
Amazon
From one of America’s most imaginative storytellers comes a passionate tale of love and treachery, spanning the days of Catherine de Medici’s court to the twenty-first century and starring a woman drawn back, time and again, to the past.

In 1533, an Italian orphan with an uncanny knack for creating fragrance is plucked from poverty to become Catherine de Medici’s perfumer. To repay his debt, over the years René le Florentine is occasionally called upon to put his vast knowledge to a darker purpose: the creation of deadly poisons used to dispatch the Queen's rivals.

But it's René other passion—a desire to reanimate a human breath, to bring back the lives of the two people whose deaths have devastated him—that incites a dangerous treasure hunt five centuries later. That's when Jac L’Etoile—suffering from a heartache of her own—becomes obsessed with the possibility of unlocking Rene's secret to immortality.

Soon Jac’s search reconnects her with Griffin North, a man she’s loved her entire life. Together they confront an eccentric heiress whose art collection rivals many museums and who is determined to keep her treasures close at hand, not just in this life but in her next.

Set in the forest of Fontainebleau, crisscrossing the lines between the past and the present, M.J. Rose has written a mesmerizing tale of passion and obsession. This is a gothic tale perfect for fans of Anne Rice, Deborah Harkness, and Diana Galbadon.

The concept of The Collector of Dying Breaths: A Novel Of Suspense excited me tremendously, so much that I joined NetGalley for the sole purpose of obtaining an arc. A Florentine perfumer recruited to anoint women with beautiful scents and to poison troublesome courtiers by the infamous Catherine de Medici, who is also obsessed with the alchemical potential to bring loved ones back to life by capturing their dying breaths? Sign me up!

However, I had not signed up for the awkward modern half of the book which was laden with babble of reincarnation, past lives, failed romance, and half hearted references to character-making moments. It felt as if I was reading two different books! Because of this mismatch, I feel as if it would be more accurate to review the book within its separate parts…

First, to 1537! Rene Florentin is rescued from accusations of murdering his mentor by Catherine de Medici, to come to the French court to provide beautiful perfumes, deadly poisons, and to attempt the Sisyphean task of capturing the souls of the dying for reanimation in new bodies. During his tenure as the Queen’s perfumer, Renee  demonstrates his usefulness by playing a large part in Catherine’s enticement of her husband, and engages in a sanguine love affair with the Queen’s most desired and useful spy. The passionate pairing comes to a tragic  and untimely end that forces Rene’s hand with his more secretive experiments, in a desperate attempt to bring back the ultimate flower of his life.

The historical segments of this book are a delight to read. Admittedly, the historical context is neither here nor there, for it is not richly written, but also not suggestive of gross inaccuracy. Though I wished for more intimate expression of the world of Catherine de Medici, the characters were nonetheless beguiling, interesting, and given enough depth to invite emotional investment. These segments included well written sex, deeply sensual alchemical allusions, adeptly teasing whispers of courtier life, and a thorough plotline.

Unfortunately, the historical characters and setting took a back seat to the much less pleasing present-day segments of this book. First and foremost, for some reason when the setting was shifted from 1537 to the present, the writing style suffered significantly. Suddenly, the plot points became cumbersome and clunky, uninspired, and worst of all, a grammatical nightmare! The present day chapters were completely inundated with sentence fragments that jarred my reading flow. “His cheek.” “Washed face.” “Was glad for them” – these are not sentences! How did such beautiful writing transition to such garbage? This made me mental.

The present day segments feel disjointed, certainly in part due to the rag-tag clump of main characters who seem to not belong together. First, there is Jac the protagonist, freshly grieving the suspicious loss of her brother Robbie, the great family perfumer who had been attempting to unlock the secrets of ancient Rene’s dying breath research. Next, Griffin, Jac’s failed love interest who she simply cannot let go of, nor fully reunite with. Then there is Melinoe, the unreasonably wealthy  and discomfiting antique collector that all stories of curious artifacts require, and her step brother slash lover Serge. Finally, Malachai, who is a ‘reincarnation therapist’ and actually makes no appearance in the story other than in reference to past aid, and a phone call.

But wait, there’s more! Jac experiences visions of the past, which are suggested to be memories from her past lives, as well as the memories of the past lives of others that she can inexplicably access. Through these memory-lurches, Jac reaches the conclusion that in many manifestations of her life, she has repeatedly caused the death of Griffin’s past-life selves, which leads to a great deal of angst, and delays progress in the story. This element of reincarnation and past lives could have been completely set aside as far as I am concerned for it added very little, if anything at all, to the tale. I discovered later that M.J Rose is clearly very fascinated with this topic, and thusly it feels as if it was included simply for the author’s satisfaction. Needless to say, I found very little about the present-day storyline to be thrilled about.

As for the “novel of Suspense” subtitle… not so much. The plot ‘twists’ were extremely predictable, the character revelations were fairly straight forward, and I was not once caught off guard. I do not feel, however, that this was a detracting factor from the overall story, it just did not fulfill the promise of suspense. And as a side note, any book that ends with a whole bunch of historical artefacts going up in flames just guts me, even if I see it coming. Not cool!

To summarize, The Collector of Dying Breaths is simultaneously both delightful, and disappointing. If you have the patience to muddle through the present-day mess, the historical segments will be worth your efforts.

[ARC Review] Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg

Amy's Reviews, ARC Reviews, Reviews 0 Comments 11th March, 2014

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

[ARC Review] Better Off Friends by Elizabeth EulbergBetter Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg
Published by Point on February 25, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 288
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads
five-stars
Amazon
For Macallan and Levi, it was friends at first sight. Everyone says guys and girls can’t be just friends, but these two are. They hang out after school, share tons of inside jokes, their families are super close, and Levi even starts dating one of Macallan’s friends. They are platonic and happy that way.

Eventually they realize they’re best friends — which wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t keep getting in each other’s way. Guys won’t ask Macallan out because they think she’s with Levi, and Levi spends too much time joking around with Macallan, and maybe not enough time with his date. They can’t help but wonder . . . are they more than friends or are they better off without making it even more complicated?

From romantic comedy superstar Elizabeth Eulberg comes a fresh, fun examination of a question for the ages: Can guys and girls ever really be just friends? Or are they always one fight away from not speaking again — and one kiss away from true love?

It’s official, after finishing Better Off Friends I am now an Elizabeth Eulberg fangirl. I want to shout from the rooftops and gush to anybody that comes near me how good this book is. The best way to describe Better Off Friends is that it is like a teen version of When Harry Met Sally. The book starts when the main characters are just kids in middle school. Macallan’s mom has recently passed away and Levi is the new kid in school and both of them are in need of someone to lean on. The book follows them through middle school and most of high school. It follows them through friendships with others and even as they date other people.

What made me fall in love with this book? The emotion and connection between Levi and Macallan. Better Off Friends sucked me right in and wouldn’t let go. I started it in the morning, went to work and had to stay up late to finish it. My heart would break for Levi and Macallan, and then my heart was soaring through the sky as I cheered for them. My favorite aspect to this book was that it was from both Levi and Macallan’s points of view. It felt like they were actually telling the story in an interview.

Go read Better Off Friends if you are looking for a good romantic comedy. This book was like falling in love again with one of my favorite movies. I think that Rob Reiner would be proud, for those too young to know, he is the director of When Harry Met Sally. I cannot stress how fabulous this book is. It is filled with so many good emotions. The writing and the story are both fabulous. If you are looking for a quick, funny, heart breaking, romantic, and sometimes poignant read about coming of age and how to keep your best friend, then read this book. I cannot recommend Better Off Friends enough.

[Review] Not A Drop To Drink

Fry's Reviews, Reviews 0 Comments 10th March, 2014

[Review] Not A Drop To DrinkNot A Drop To Drink by Mindy McGinnis
Series: Not A Drop To Drink #1
Published by Katherine Tegan Books on September 24th, 2013
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Source: Gift
Goodreads
four-stars
Amazon
Regret was for people with nothing to defend, people who had no water.

Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn't leave at all.

Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.

But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it….

With evocative, spare language and incredible drama, danger, and romance, debut author Mindy McGinnis depicts one girl’s journey in a barren world not so different than our own.

It took three attempts to make it through this book. Not because this book is bad, by any means, but it’s a gritty, realistic survivalist story and sometimes that leads to slow plodding chapters full of hunting and gathering. The two attempts I had at reading this before found me setting it down for something with a more clipped pace.  As they say, third time’s a charm, and I’m glad I followed through to the finish.

Set in a dystopian world where water is a precious commodity, the story follows a young girl named Lynn as she and her mother attempt to survive in a world full of uncertainties and predators- both human and animal. A tragedy early on leaves Lynn on her own and she must decide if she’s going to continue on her mother’s path of lonely survival, or feed that spark of compassion within her and help the needy around her farm.

The book doesn’t brush over any topics- gutting a deer, stillbirth and rape are all mentioned with efficiency. It fits the landscape, but for readers with a low tolerance for such things the book may come off as crude and excessive.

There is a romance, if one could call the budding relationship between a lonely girl on the cusp of womanhood and the first boy her age she’s seen ever a romance. While it didn’t feel forced, it also didn’t feel like there where hot sparks flying either. I enjoyed the minimalism of the romance, as it remained a tertiary plot point and never overthrew the main theme.

This book reads like a standalone, and was probably meant to be one. It wasn’t until very recently that a second book in the series was announced. While secretly hoping that A Handful of Dust wouldn’t be a direct sequel, I’m glad to see it is (they’re toting it as a ‘companion novel’ but when you’re following one of the main characters from the previous book, it’s pretty much a sequel). There’s some potential there. Though, even if the author decided to move away from her lone wilderness survivors and tell the story of life in the city, that would also prove sufficiently compelling.