Posted in Book Review

Book Review: The Fountain of St. James Park

naslund

Title:  The Fountain of St. James Park or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman

Author:  Sena Jeter Naslund

Publisher:  HarperCollins

Pages:  448

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction/Historical Fiction

Setting:  Revolutionary France and modern day Kentucky

Source:    I purchased this novel for myself.

Publication Date:  Sept 17, 2013

Blurb:

How do writers and painters get their ideas? And what are the realities and heartbreaks that lie behind such seemingly glamorous and romantic lives? In her groundbreaking new novel, New York Times bestselling author Sena Jeter Naslund explores the artistic processes and lives of creative women

Sena Jeter Naslund’s inspiring novel-within-a-novel, The Fountain of St. James Court; or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman, creates the lives of a fictional contemporary writer and of a historic painter whose works now hang in the great museums of Europe and America. Both women’s creative lives have been forged in the crucibles of family, friends, society, and nation.

The story opens at midnight beside a beautifully illumined fountain of Venus Rising from the Sea. Kathryn Callaghan has just finished her novel about painter Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun, a French Revolution survivor hated for her sympathetic portraits of Marie Antoinette. Though still haunted by the story she has written, Kathryn must leave the eighteenth-century European world she has researched and made vivid in order to return to her own American life of 2012.

Naslund’s spellbinding new novel presents the reader with an alternate version of The Artist: a woman of age who has created for herself, against enormous odds, a fulfilling life of thoroughly realized achievement.

What I Say:

The premise of this novel is so intriguing:  a story within a story, one being told in the 3rd person in modern times and the other being told in 1st person from a historical perspective. The modern-day main character is Kathryn, an older author who has just completed her latest novel about Elizabeth Vigee-Le Brun, our historical main character. Kathryn’s story is told mainly in the present, mixing in perspectives from other characters that touch her life. Kathryn’s part of the story is extremely introspective with very little dialogue.

Then we have our artist, Elisabeth Le Brun. Elizabeth was a celebrated artist in Marie Antoinette’s court. She is known for her portraits of Marie Antoinette as well as other nobles from the era. Also, some of her more famous paintings include her self-portraits. We get to know Elizabeth from the time that she was a child in convent school until she is an old lady, having survived the guillotine, the loss of her daughter, and fleeing France to travel as an ex-patriate.

These chapters of the book, for me, were the most enjoyable. I found Kathryn to be annoying. Also, vignettes were tossed in from time to time from the perspective of her friends and her ex-husband. I thought these additions detracted from rather than added to the story. One specific scene involving her neighbor and her ex-husband left me baffled as to what the point of it was.

I could go on with the many things that I found wrong with this novel, devices that were used that were obvious, plot holes that were never filled, etc., but instead I will say that I learned quite a bit about Elizabeth because the tidbits that Jeter Naslund included were intriguing enough that I conducted quite a few Internet searches while reading this novel. Another thing that I will say, as a result of my own research, is do not take the historical bits of this novel as fact because, WOW! did Jeter Naslund take liberties, which is her right as a fiction writer, I know. But she presented certain events as factual when they were, in fact, either rumor or just didn’t happen the way she wrote them. Sheesh.

I rated this book as a 2 out of 5 stars on Goodreads because of Elizabeth’s chapters. This is the second Sena Jeter Naslund novel that I’ve read and disliked. I just don’t think her writing is for me. It took me 11 days to read this book, which is a very long time for me.

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Posted in Book Review

Book Review: The Lost Property Office

lost-property-office

Title:  The Lost Property Office (Section 13, #1)

Author:  James R. Hannibal

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Pages:  400

Genre:  Middle grade, fantasy

Setting:  Modern day London

Source:    I received this ARC in a Goodreads giveaway from the publisher.

Publication Date:  Nov 8, 2016

Blurb:

James R. Hannibal presents a thrilling adventure through history, complete with mysteries, secret items, codes, and a touch of magic in this stunning middle grade debut.

Thirteen-year-old Jack Buckles is great at finding things. Not just a missing glove or the other sock, but things normal people have long given up on ever seeing again. If only he could find his father, who has disappeared in London without a trace.

But Jack’s father was not who he claimed to be. It turns out that he was a member of a secret society of detectives that has served the crown for centuries—and membership into the Lost Property Office is Jack’s inheritance.

Now the only way Jack will ever see his father again is if he finds what the nefarious Clockmaker is after: the Ember, which holds a secret that has been kept since the Great Fire of London. Will Jack be able to find the Ember and save his father, or will his talent for finding things fall short?

What I Say:

This book was a lovely mix of middle grade fantasy and London history. We meet Jack and his sister Sadie in a London hotel. Sadie wonders off looking for her father and Jack goes in search of her and finds not only his sister but the Lost Property Office. Here, we meet Gwen, an apprentice clerk. Gwen reveals the true nature of Jack’s dad’s work and how Jack is also a part of the Lost Property Office. Together, they meet the Clockmaker and discover that he is responsible for Jack’s father’s disappearance and in order to get his dad back alive, Jack must find the Ember and hand it over to the Clockmaker. Thus, the adventure begins as Gwen, trying to prove herself, helps Jack search for the lost Ember. Through their detective work, Jack learns more about the Lost Property Office as well as other secret societies that exist in London.

This book is full of fun, adventure, and laughter. It is cleverly written and hard to put down. I had a great time reading this book and I’m looking forward to future installments in the series. This is Hannibal’s first foray into middle grade writing and he does a superb job. He stays true to writing in the middle grade form, nothing overt in terms of language, violence, or Jack and Gwen’s relationship; he kept the focus on the kids’ adventure. I also loved the elements of steampunk added in for flavor. As if all that weren’t enough, you even learn about London’s Great Fire of 1666 in a clever and witty story.

I highly recommend this book to all middle grade readers and fans of adventure mysteries.

4 Hearts

Posted in Book Review

Book Review: The Bone Witch

the-bone-witch

Title:  The Bone Witch

Author:  Rin Chupeco

Publisher:  Sourcebooks Fire

Pages:  400

Genre:  Science Fiction, High Fantasy

Setting:  The fictional world of The Eight Kingdoms

Source:    I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Publication Date:  March 7, 2017

Blurb:

When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.

In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha — one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.

Memoirs of a Geisha meets The Name of the Wind in this brilliant new fantasy series by Rin Chupeco!

What I Say:

This novel follows the story of Tea (pronounced Tay-ya, which wasn’t revealed until the very latter part of the book and I spent almost the entire time reading this book pronouncing it as Tea, like the drink. This really annoyed me.) from the moment when she discovers she’s a bone witch until she is about 17 years old. The story switches focus from following along her journey in learning who she is and how to be a bone witch in the world of asha, or witches, to a point in the future where Tea is exiled and communicating her story to another exile, The Bard.

I mostly enjoyed the parts of the story where it is being told in the first person from Tea’s point of view. During these scenes, we get to see how Tea is being trained as an asha. There’s action, humor, and a bit of romance. It’s very Harry Potter-like. The other scenes where the reader is given a third person point of view from the perspective of the Bard were a little confusing. The only thing you really get from these scenes is the Bard’s nervousness around Tea but not what her motivations are. What is she doing, exiled with only bones for company?

The book also ends on a cliff-hanger, not having resolved anything at all in the entire book. I get cliff-hangers and why this device is used in series and trilogies, but Chupeco could have chosen to, at the very least, clear up some of the cloudiness and mystery surrounding Tea. We don’t find out why she’s exiled, whose grave she mourns, who the Bard is and what role is he going to play, if any at all, what Tea is going to do now that her preparations on the beach seem to be completed, or why her brother and all of her friends seem to have abandoned her. Chupeco was a little bit too mysterious and I felt like she could have fleshed out Tea’s world a little better and the people in it.

That being said, I liked Chupeco’s lyrical writing. She is very poetic in her prose. It was easy to read and, like I said before, I really had fun with the parts of the story told from Tea’s perspective. This is an ARC though, so there’s room for changes to be made before the final release.

3 Hearts

Posted in Book Review

Book Review: To Capture What We Cannot Keep

to-capture-what-we-cannot-keep

Title:  To Capture What We Cannot Keep

Author:  Beatrice Colin

Publisher:  Flatiron Books

Pages:  304

Genre:  Historical Fiction, Romance

Setting:  1887-1890, mostly in Paris, France

Source:    Net Galley

Publication Date:  Nov 29, 2016

Blurb:

In February 1887, Caitriona Wallace and Émile Nouguier meet in a hot air balloon, floating high above Paris, France–a moment of pure possibility. But back on firm ground, their vastly different social strata become clear. Cait is a widow who because of her precarious financial situation is forced to chaperone two wealthy Scottish charges. Émile is expected to take on the bourgeois stability of his family’s business and choose a suitable wife. As the Eiffel Tower rises, a marvel of steel and air and light, the subject of extreme controversy and a symbol of the future, Cait and Émile must decide what their love is worth.

Seamlessly weaving historical detail and vivid invention, Beatrice Colin evokes the revolutionary time in which Cait and Émile live–one of corsets and secret trysts, duels and Bohemian independence, strict tradition and Impressionist experimentation. To Capture What We Cannot Keep, stylish, provocative, and shimmering, raises probing questions about a woman’s place in that world, the overarching reach of class distinctions, and the sacrifices love requires of us all.

What I Say:

This was an interesting book. Set in the late 1800’s Paris, it’s filled with drama and romance. Cait is damaged, but strong and a survivor. She’s paid to be the chaperone to Alice. Alice is young, naive, spoiled, and easily led. What saves her from being completely irredeemable is that she’s very sweet. Alice’s brother, Jamie, is a playboy, spoiled, selfish, and entitled. I really disliked this character but I guess you could say that his redeeming quality is that he’s too young to know better, but that’s a convenient excuse. Then we have Emile. He’s the man behind Eiffel’s tower. Smart, complex, and flawed in many ways.

What I liked about this book was the history. Colin’s writing gives the story momentum and you’re definitely given the feeling of wanting to know what’s next.

What I didn’t like was that too many aspects of the story weren’t addressed in the end, which isn’t the same as an ambiguous ending, it was more like plot holes. Colin also jumped back and forth in time in the form of the characters recollecting past events. This, oftentimes, was confusing and felt more like an interruption than going with the flow of the story.

I thoroughly disliked the ending but can’t say why without spoilers. It’s the kind of the book with writing and characters that I’ll forget completely in a week or two. As a matter of fact, I finished this book on Oct 9th and without my written notes to jog my memory, I would’ve had a hard time writing this at all.

2 Hearts

Posted in Book Review

Book Review: A Study in Scarlet Women

scarlet-women

Title:  A Study in Scarlet Women

Author:  Sherry Thomas

Publisher:  Penguin Publishing Group

Pages:  336

Genre:  Mystery, Retelling, Fiction

Setting:  Victorian England

Source:    Net Galley

Publication Date:  Oct 18, 2016

Blurb:

With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society.  But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.

When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her. But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

From Me:

This was an entertaining read. It had a very Sherlockian feel to it with added feminist twist. Sherry Thomas was vastly clever in her retelling of Sherlock and let’s face it, this is a story that has been retold by many authors in varying ways over the decades. I would think it would be a daunting task to not only take on such a revered story but to try and put any originality to it but Thomas succeeds.

For the most part, all of the characters are well-developed, interesting, and three dimensional. The “but” in this is that I wish Thomas would have put a little more time into Charlotte’s love interest or not have given her one at all. It almost felt superfluous to the story.

I’m thrilled that this is the first book in a series. However, reading this as an ARC, I’m going to have a verrrry long wait for the next installment.

 

Posted in Book Review

Book Review: This Adventure Ends

 

this-adventure-ends

Title:  This Adventure Ends

Author:  Emma Mills

Publisher:  Henry Holt and Co.

Pages:  320

Genre:  Contemporary, YA, Romance

Setting:  My neck of the woods in Florida

Source:    Net Galley

Publication Date:  Oct 4, 2016

Blurb:

Sloane isn’t expecting to fall in with a group of friends when she moves from New York to Florida—especially not a group of friends so intense, so in love, so all-consuming. Yet that’s exactly what happens.

Sloane becomes closest to Vera, a social-media star who lights up any room, and Gabe, Vera’s twin brother and the most serious person Sloane’s ever met. When a beloved painting by the twins’ late mother goes missing, Sloane takes on the responsibility of tracking it down, a journey that takes her across state lines—and ever deeper into the twins’ lives.

Filled with intense and important friendships, a wonderful warts-and-all family, shiveringly good romantic developments, and sharp, witty dialogue, this story is about finding the people you never knew you needed.

What I say:

There was a lot about this book that I liked. It was fast-paced, witty, and had modern YA themes. Sloane is an easily recognizable character as a 17 year old high school student with the usual angst. She’s also funny, smart, and talented. Moving to a new state and a new school, she adapts rather well and finds herself ensconced in a group of nice, good, friends. Sloane is also flawed in that she lets her mouth run away with her and can say hurtful things.

The entire time I read this book I kept making comparisons to The Gilmore Girls because of all the wordy, smart, fast quips that Sloane makes. I also compared it to Rainbow Rowell’s Fanfiction. There were a lot of similarities to that book in my opinion. Both of these are good things, just not all that original. I also kept thinking that teenagers, at least in my recollection and experience, aren’t nearly this witty and adult-sounding.

What I didn’t like about this book is that Mills tried to do too many things at once. She focused on the relationships between too many different characters, the rift in Sloane’s parents’ marriage, Sloane’s dads’ writer’s slump, the quest to find the painting, her struggle with her singing and auditioning for college, and Sloane trying to figure herself out in general. As a result, the details were light and there were a few plot holes. I felt like the issues with all the characters were solved in a 30 minute sitcom kinda way.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I read it about five hours, in one sitting, staying up until after 4 am to finish it, lol. I think the theme of this book could be called “sweet” and it was. The glossed over ending is what kept me from giving this book a 4 out of 5 hearts. I’d recommend this book to Nicholas Sparks (another comparison I kept making) die hards. 😉 I also LOVE the cover.

3 Hearts

Posted in Book Review

Extracted by Sherry D. Ficklin & Tyler Folley

extracted

Title:  Extracted (The Lost Imperials #1)

Author:  Sherry D. Ficklin and Tyler Folley

Publisher:  Clean Teen Publishing, Inc.

Pages:  320

Genre:  YA, Science Fiction, Steampunk

Setting:  All over space and time!!

Source:    Net Galley

Publication Date:  November 12, 2013

Blurb:

Welcome to the war. The Tesla Institute is a premier academy that trains young time travelers called Rifters. Created by Nicola Tesla, the Institute seeks special individuals who can help preserve the time stream against those who try to alter it. The Hollows is a rogue band of Rifters who tear through time with little care for the consequences. Armed with their own group of lost teens–their only desire to find Tesla and put an end to his corruption of the time stream. Torn between them are Lex and Ember, two Rifters with no memories of their life before joining the time war. When Lex’s girlfriend dies during a mission, the only way he can save her is to retrieve the Dox, a piece of tech which allows Rifters to re-enter their own timeline without collapsing the time stream. But the Dox is hidden deep within the Tesla Institute, which means Lex must go into the enemy camp. It’s there he meets Ember, and the past that was stolen from them both comes flooding back. Now armed with the truth of who they are, Lex and Ember must work together to save the future before the battle for time destroys them both…again.

What I Say:

I requested this book off of Netgalley based solely on the cover. Then I read the blurb and thought that it still sounded interesting. What should be noted, however, is that the steampunk element of this book is minimal and not as well-developed as the other aspects of the book. It’s definitely more young adult romance than it is science fiction.

The writing is decent and the story flows. There’s lots of action and fight scenes and I thought that the backstory of the Tesla Institute was explained nicely. I just wish that, on the whole, the story had more depth and detail. At times, I felt like I was reading the second book in a series instead of the first. I think this book would be better suited for the younger teen set. I give it 3 hearts out of 5 because it’s entertaining and the writing didn’t feel amateurish. Still, 2 3/4 might be a better, more honest rating.

3 Hearts