Thursday, June 22, 2017

Cover Crush: The Trick by Emanuel Bermann

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing the shelves at Goodreads and Amazon. My love of cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those prints that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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I love the cover of Emanuel Bergmann's The Trick. Close-ups on female models are normal, but it is exceedingly rare to see a male model flying solo on a historical fiction jacket. I also like how the ticket itself hints at the novel's premise.

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

INTERESTED IN SEEING MORE?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Heather at The Maiden's Court
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired
Meghan at Of Quills & Vellum
Stephanie at Layered Pages


Monday, June 19, 2017

The Irish Tempest by Elizabeth J. Sparrow

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: June 14, 2017

Ireland, 1911: After seven centuries of unyielding oppression, there is a tempest rising, a national yearning for Irish independence. It threatens to sweep away all that is precious to the very privileged O'Rourke and de la Roche families. Seismic changes are but a whisper away. What begins as a squabbling friendship between the wastrel Courtland O'Rourke and the defiant, mischief-making Lacey de la Roche matures into a deeply passionate, tempestuous love, fraught with secrets of lethal consequences and sins of omission. In this debut historical novel, The Irish Tempest beckons the reader into a world, where landowner and tenant farmer, the well-off and the working-class are chafing under the chokehold of British domination. Pulled apart by personal and social conflicts, Court and Lacey experience the world from perspectives both transformative and destructive. Court, compelled to accept a commission in the British army, initiates a disastrous affair with rippling aftershocks. Lacey, fueled by the arrogance of adolescence, is beguiled by a charismatic but sociopathic horse trainer. The Irish Tempest thrusts the reader into the anguish of the 1916 Easter Rising and beyond as Ireland seethes on the cusp of revolution. Deftly paced with vividly drawn characters, The Irish Tempest embraces historical elements while preserving the essence of evocative storytelling.

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The signatories of the Proclamation: Tom Clarke,
Seán MacDiarmada, Thomas MacDonagh, Patrick Pearse,
Éamonn Ceannt, James Connolly, and Joseph Plunkett.
Elizabeth J. Sparrow’s The Irish Tempest is marketed as a historical romance, but it should be understood that the ratio is round about 30:70 in favor of fitful mewling and surging loins. There’s nothing wrong with that, romance is a booming genre with an avid readership, but I personally prefer historic romance that is weighted in the other direction.

The jacket places certain emphasis on the Rising so let’s start there. The beginning of the insurrection is traditionally marked by Pearse’s reading of the 1916 Proclamation outside the GPO. The declaration was signed by seven of the movement’s leaders, but for some unknown reason Sparrow mentions only five: Tom Clarke, James Connelly, Joseph Plunkett, Thomas MacDonagh, and Patrick Pearse. The remaining two, Sean MacDiarmada and Eamonn Ceannt, are entirely omitted from the text and replaced by Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera. I was annoyed as hell that Sparrow eclipsed the Rising with a scene of attempted rape, but there's simply no excuse to have dropped two of the key players from enjoying their moment in the limelight.

On a similar note, the Rising didn’t just happen. It wasn’t planned at the last moment and the ideals that drove it weren’t new. Clarke himself had been fighting for the cause of Irish freedom since the late 1870s. Tensions had been steadily increasing for years, but Sparrow’s narrative ignores this reality and fumbles any and all development of the political landscape that shaped these men and their ideals. I wanted these concepts to take center stage, the prominence placed on them in the description are why I picked up the book, but at the end of the day the subject matter wasn’t central to the story at hand and that fact left me bitterly disappointed.

The love story didn’t interest me and I can’t say I cared much for Sparrow’s cast, but I’m not above giving the author credit where due. There are passages in this piece that are downright lyrical and I found much of the dialogue humorous and entertaining. There’s also noticeable build up to the conflict between Collins and de Valera in the final chapters of the story and I like how that attention sets the stage for the intended sequel.

Not a complete wash, but not something I see myself recommending to fellow readers.

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There is an inevitable forgetfulness that comes with inheriting a privileged albeit circumscribed life. When there is wealth and abundant resources to pass on to the next generation, one may forget that those ancestral woes—the devastation of blight and famine, the theft of birthright and property, the debasement of language and culture—still may claim a person, in the here and now of one’s very indulgent existence.
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Friday, June 16, 2017

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: June 5, 2017

She was only two-foot eight-inches tall, but her legend reaches out to us more than a century later. As a child, Mercy Lavinia “Vinnie” Bump was encouraged to live a life hidden away from the public. Instead, she reached out to the immortal impresario P. T. Barnum, married the tiny superstar General Tom Thumb in the wedding of the century, and transformed into the world’s most unexpected celebrity. Here, in Vinnie’s singular and spirited voice, is her amazing adventure—from a showboat “freak” revue where she endured jeering mobs to her fateful meeting with the two men who would change her life: P. T. Barnum and Charles Stratton, AKA Tom Thumb. Their wedding would captivate the nation, preempt coverage of the Civil War, and usher them into the White House and the company of presidents and queens. But Vinnie’s fame would also endanger the person she prized most: her similarly-sized sister, Minnie, a gentle soul unable to escape the glare of Vinnie’s spotlight. A barnstorming novel of the Gilded Age, and of a woman’s public triumphs and personal tragedies, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb is the irresistible epic of a heroine who conquered the country with a heart as big as her dreams—and whose story will surely win over yours.

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Lavinia Warren
Several months ago, I stumbled over a documentary entitled The Seven Dwarfs of Auschwitz. The broadcast centers on the Ovitz family and after watching it, I went looking for a fictional account of their lives and experiences. Unfortunately for me, their story has not yet inspired an author to put pen to paper, but by the time I discovered that fact, I was dead set on finding a book that featured a dwarf in the leading role which is what led to my discovery of Melanie Benjamin’s The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.

Vinnie’s path to fame was inherently related to her size, but she did not allow her stature to define her and I love how Benjamin threaded that principle into the fabric of her narrative. The author does not shy away from the daily challenges of life as a little person, but her central themes are those of an ambitious and fiercely passionate woman, fighting to achieve her dreams and face down the world on her own terms. Excuse me for gushing, but I think that a beautiful message and couldn’t help admiring Benjamin for honing it on it as she did here.

The historic elements of the story, however, were less compelling. I found the details pertaining to the intricacies and eccentricities of P.T. Barnum’s amusements fascinating, but the intermission sequences that tied Vinnie’s life to larger world events such as the American Civil War seemed out of place, distracting, and detrimental to the already plodding pace of the narrative.

Though I love what the character represented, I also struggled with Vinnie’s arrogance and self-superiority. I often grew so frustrated with her that I wanted to scream and more than once considered abandoning the novel outright. I loved the supporting cast – Sylvia, Minnie, and Charles in particular – but Vinnie herself tested my patience.

Would I recommend The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb? Yes, but hesitantly and after both The Aviator’s Wife and The Swans of Fifth Avenue. I don’t mean to be hard on the novel. I liked a lot of the thematic execution, but the found the execution difficult to navigate.

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“That's just it, don't you see? I don't want to be taken care of! I don't want be hidden away, a burden! I want to make my own way! To have a greater purpose!'” 
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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Cover Crush: Imperatrix by Russell Whitfield

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing the shelves at Goodreads and Amazon. My love of cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those prints that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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I love the cover of Russell Whitfield's Imperatrix. The color scheme is dramatic, but the mix of feminine and masculine elements tease the imagination. To be fair, the design took their cues directly from the story itself, but I still love how the artist was able to recreate those themes through the cover imagery.

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

INTERESTED IN SEEING MORE?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Heather at The Maiden's Court
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired
Meghan at Of Quills & Vellum
Stephanie at Layered Pages


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Miss Whitaker Opens Her Heart by Jennifer Moore

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: June 12, 2017

Australia, 1814. As a young child bound for a strange country, Sarah Whitaker dreamed of life with her father on his sprawling Australian ranch. But her hopes were shattered when she learned of his death and of her new role as heiress of the largest sheep farm in New Wales. Orphaned in a land greatly populated by petty criminals exiled from England, the future seemed grim. But now, ten years later, Sarah has defied the odds and become a successful businesswoman much to the chagrin of her male counterparts. Hardened by the dishonesty of both her fellow ranchers and the felons in her employ, Sarah has learned one important truth: no one is to be trusted. Daniel Burton is a lucky man. Sentenced to death for his role in a horse-race scandal, Daniel was granted reprieve thanks to the influence of his wealthy relatives. Now, rather than death, Daniel faces exile in Australia an opportunity to put past mistakes behind him. But when he purchases land with the intention of farming it, he unwittingly arouses the wrath of his new neighbor, Sarah. What begins as a battle of wits, however, soon becomes a warm friendship and perhaps something more. But when Daniel's secret past is revealed, will Sarah be able forgive yet another deception?

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Miss Whitaker Opens Her Heart was the first Jennifer Moore novel I chanced to pick up and I’m in no rush to repeat the experience. I respect there are a lot of readers who appreciate this kind of storytelling and I mean no offense to the author or her fans, but Moore’s writing is simply too light and predictable for my tastes.

The novel is set in Australia, but nothing about the text feels authentic to the Land Down Under. There are some superficial details about convicts and their treatment, but Moore never gets into the thick of it and the lack of atmospheric detail made it hard to imagine life on either Sarah or Daniel’s station. I was similarly disappointed with Moore’s treatment of the indigenous people, but meaty subject matter wasn’t Moore’s game so it should come as no surprise that she barely skimmed the surface of Australia’s weightier and less admirable history. 

The romance Moore creates is sweet and while there is nothing wrong with that, I felt a distinct lack of chemistry between her leads. Both are Sarah and Danial are genuinely good people and while I appreciate the sentiment, such flawless personalities don’t exist in real life and I think their lack of individual flaw undermined their authenticity. Moore also has a tendency to tell more than she shows and omit character building scenes – Sarah’s embracing the role of station owner and/or Daniel’s crime and subsequent transport – that would have allowed readers to invest in the growth and experiences of her leads. 

At the end of the day Miss Whitaker Opens Her Heart missed its mark. If anything, I’d consider the novel a good in-between read, but I’d have difficulty recommending the story or subject matter to fellow readers.  

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What hope was there for him? And how was it to be found in a penal colony in an untamed land on the other side of the world?
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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Cover Cliché: Seaside Sentinel

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see jacket art that gives me a disconcerting sense of deja vu. I know I've not read the book, but I am equally certain I've seen its image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Image recycling is fairly common as cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. The details vary cover to cover, but each boasts a certain similarity and I find comparing the finished designs quite interesting.

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His greatest battle will be for her love. The Highland Mist series continues...

Once sworn enemies, the fearsome knight Sir Galen de Ogilvy and the beautiful, headstrong Scotswoman, Laoghaire MacKinnon, have been ordered by Robert the Bruce to wed one another in order to end the blood feud between their two families. And though their marriage is born of ancient hatreds, beneath the newlyweds’ fiery exchanges an explosive passion simmers. But Laoghaire soon discovers a far more dangerous enemy lurking in the shadows, one who will stop at nothing to sever the burgeoning bond between her and Galen. When the treachery is finally revealed, it will put their love and their lives in deadly peril.




After helping kill her husband to protect her child from his father's Satanic Order, Margerite embarks on a dangerous deception to cover up the murder. She pretends to be an Order priestess to keep the others from taking Wolfram away, but finds she cannot shed this falsehood so easily. Given in marriage to her husband's opponent to seal the end of the feud, she finds her youngest stepson has been instructed to continue her training in the black arts. She struggles to balance the safety of her child with the disposition of her soul, all the while trying to be faithful to her new husband when her heart actually belongs to her dead husband's captain of the guard. Even there she must choose as her love, Bertram, rushes off to save his own people from the Order and her stepson invites a demon to inhabit his older brother. Who should she aid first, and just how is she to do either while keeping herself and her baby safe?

* English Title: Falcon's Flight.




Set against the wild and perilous background of Scotland in the late 13th century, the adventurous lives of Robert the Bruce's five sisters come to life through their own words in a series of letters. Courage and tenacity are often associated with Scotland's great hero, but few appreciate the enormous challenges experienced by these remarkable sisters. Their intimate account of family life resonates still with love, loss and hope.

Isa leaves home to sail to the land of the Vikings to become Queen of Norway whilst her sister, Kirsty, finds herself Countess of Mar and chatelaine of the great Kildrummy Castle in Scotland's far northeast. Danger looms and the younger sisters, Mathilda and Margaret, escape to Orkney with Kirsty's children. As Scotland spirals into war, Robert's sisters face the wrath of King Edward of England, whose vengeance wrought the brutal death of William Wallace. Kirsty is incarcerated alone in an English nunnery, whilst Mary endures years of misery within a cage hanging from the walls of Roxburgh Castle. Under Robert's kingship, old wounds heal and Scotland's fighting force achieves a resounding victory at the Battle of Bannockburn. Only then are the fragile, traumatised women released, through the ransoming of English nobles, to return home to rebuild their shattered lives...




The Lindsey Mountain Massacre was the stuff of legend-the spine chilling, wicked-cruel kind of story that evil-humored folk like to share on a dark and moonless night. It held all the makings of a fine and frightful tale, a blustering blizzard of a winter storm, a candlelit, backwoods mansion in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a Christmas Eve celebration in the year of nineteen and one, good folk killed by a vengeful haint... or a rabid bear-depending on who was doing the telling. Truth be told, no one ever really found out exactly what did happen or why, nor even realized just how far from the truth all their old stories fell...'til more than a century later, when folks 'round Lindsey started mysteriously disappearing and dying...and the ancient ones returned. From the nevermore mists, lost among dark realms of nothingness and myriad points of twinkling light, in a place that had never really been before or since, the Fates appeared, and with caprice and whimsy created all that followed as unscripted players on a stage designed for no more mind or purpose than to lessen the burdens that neverending eons of time lay upon the creators themselves. Vampiri, Sorceri, Faielri, Demorni...four distinct races, each imbued with a different bit of life and gnosis drawn from their creator's very souls-each with a Magick all their own. Each, in turn, allowed to play their own unique roles upon this wondrous stage and reign over all its beasts before fading away into an eternal life within the Paths of Mist. Each leaving the world, with their passing, a little less perfect, a little less Magick, a little dirtier, a little plainer...a little less desirable than before. This is the tale of three who dared defy the Fates...and the humans who paid the price.




Child of the Prophecy is the thrilling conclusion to Juliet Marillier's award-winning Sevenwaters Trilogy.

Magic is fading... and the ways of Man are driving the Old Ones to the West, beyond the ken of humankind. The ancient groves are being destroyed, and if nothing is done, Ireland will lose its essential mystic core.

The prophecies of long ago have foretold a way to prevent this horror, and it is the Sevenwaters clan that the Spirits of Eire look to for salvation. They are a family bound into the lifeblood of the land, and their promise to preserve the magic has been the cause of great joy to them... as well as great sorrow.

It is up to Fianne, daughter of Niamh, the lost sister of Sevenwaters, to solve the riddles of power. She is the shy child of a reclusive sorcerer, and her way is hard, for her father is the son of the wicked sorceress Oonagh, who has emerged from the shadows and seeks to destroy all that Sevenwaters has striven for. Oonagh will use her granddaughter Fianne most cruelly to accomplish her ends, and stops at nothing to see her will done.

Will Fianne be strong enough to battle this evil and save those she has come to love?


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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 


Monday, June 12, 2017

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: June 7, 2017

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Red Tent and Day After Night, comes an unforgettable coming-of-age novel about family ties and values, friendship and feminism told through the eyes of a young Jewish woman growing up in Boston in the early twentieth century. Addie Baum is The Boston Girl, born in 1900 to immigrant parents who were unprepared for and suspicious of America and its effect on their three daughters. Growing up in the North End, then a teeming multicultural neighborhood, Addie's intelligence and curiosity take her to a world her parents can't imagine - a world of short skirts, movies, celebrity culture and new opportunities for women. Addie wants to finish high school and dreams of going to college. She wants a career and to find true love. Eighty-five-year-old Addie tells the story of her life to her twenty-two-year-old granddaughter, who has asked her "How did you get to be the woman you are today?" She begins in 1915, the year she found her voice and made friends who would help shape the course of her life. From the one-room tenement apartment she shared with her parents and two sisters, to the library group for girls she joins at a neighborhood settlement house, to her first, disastrous love affair, Addie recalls her adventures with compassion for the naïve girl she was and a wicked sense of humor. Written with the same attention to historical detail and emotional resonance that made Anita Diamant's previous novels bestsellers, The Boston Girl is a moving portrait of one woman’s complicated life in twentieth-century America, and a fascinating look at a generation of women finding their places in a changing world.

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I picked up Anita Diamant’s The Boston Girl as an in-between read, you know, one of those titles you crack open to ‘cleanse the palate’ between heavier fare? I was in the market for something light and it looked like it’d fit the bill so I pulled it up on my kindle and dug in. I’d no expectations and had no prior experience with the author’s work, so I was a surprised as anyone when the novel swept me clean off my feet.

The book is written in the first person and as a result, feels intensely intimidate. Addie is an irresistibly candid character with a sparkling sense of humor and her earnest account of her life experiences grant the novel a unique degree of emotional depth. I read historic fiction for the history, but even I can’t deny that the emotional elements of the story are what set The Boston Girl apart.

Thematically the book has a lot going on and I admire how it explores immigration as a long-term prospect with implications that ripple across generations. Addie grows up in family environment that is rooted in old world traditions, but the multicultural neighborhood of Boston’s North End has an influence all its own. Addie is a product of both and I think the novel invites understanding of what that experience really means for those who live it.

Heartfelt and emotive, The Boston Girl isn’t to be missed. A beautiful and highly recommended read.

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"You should always be kind to people, Ava. You never know what sorrows they’re carrying around."
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