Michelle’s Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik


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.

Michelle’s Review: Uprooted by Naomi NovikUprooted by Naomi Novik
Published by Random House Publishing Group on 2015-05-19
Genres: Action & Adventure, Epic, Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology, Fantasy, Fiction, Romance, Science Fiction
Pages: 432
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads
five-stars
“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

I have only read the first book in the Temeraire series but it was enough to make Naomi Novik one of my ‘must read’ authors. His Majesty’s Dragon was such a fun fantasy and while I plan on reading the rest of the series eventually, when I heard about Uprooted, a standalone novel, I definitely wanted to read it.

Uprooted was such an intense read. Every time you think things are starting to get resolved, things get crazy again. It’s extremely action-packed. The fantasy world is that of an alternate historical Poland, a world that feels real given that it somehow resembles the fairy tales kids are fed on. Yet there’s a very dark layer to it that sticks with you.

Agnieszka is an unlikely heroine and the Dragon isn’t what you think. The Woods are an evil that stick with you even when you go to sleep. I definitely had a lot of Uprooted-tainted (or corrupted, haha) dreams while reading this. They even stick with me after finishing it.

My biggest complaint is that I felt like I was missing some details or sentences. It could have been that it was a review copy. But you know when you are reading something particularly exciting you may skip a few sentences to see what is going on? That’s how this book sometimes read, even though I would go back and see if I did skip a sentence or two. There were some scenes that could be hard to follow, but I was able to get through them with a good idea of the point and still thoroughly enjoy the book.

I would recommend it to someone who is looking for a good standalone fantasy novel with an ending that is completely satisfying.

pj - michelle

Christina’s Review: I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe


Christina’s Review: I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabeI Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe
Published by Crown/Archetype on 2014-01-28
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fiction, General, Historical, Romance, War & Military
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
Goodreads
four-half-stars
An extraordinary novel about a strong-willed woman who disguises herself as a man in order to fight beside her husband in the Civil War.Rosetta doesn't want her new husband, Jeremiah, to enlist, but he joins up, hoping to make enough money that they'll be able to afford their own farm someday. When Jeremiah leaves, Rosetta decides her true place is by his side, no matter what that means, and follows him into war.Rich with historical details and inspired by the many women who fought in the Civil War while disguised as men, I Shall Be Near To You is a courageous adventure, a woman's search for meaning and individuality, and a poignant story of enduring love.

I very much enjoyed the book, I Shall Be Near to You, by Erin Lindsay McCabe. I received this book from a friend for Christmas because she thought it was right up my alley… she knows me too well. (Thanks Cassie!)

I first met the characters Rosetta and Jeremiah in their hometown in New York during the early start of the Civil War. I instantly felt a connection to Rosetta – she was a passionate, strong woman, one-of-the-boys and loyal.  McCabe does a nice job opening the story and introducing these characters whom I instantly fell in love with. The farms needed working on, mending needed doing, and early news of the war started coming into the town… death, duty, honor, and camaraderie. Jeremiah is ready to go into war, and Rosetta is ready for them to take the next step to marriage before he leaves. After their vows are said and Jeremiah leaves to fight for the Union, the real story of the hardships and brutality of war begins, and the evidential love between Rosetta and Jeremiah blossoms and pulls the reader in.

All I kept thinking from the start was “don’t you dare make me cry in the end.” I felt like I was there with Rosetta and Jeremiah in the story. Their love and travels kept me hooked and pulling for them throughout. If there was ever a moments hesitation in their love for each other, McCabe continued to make me fall in love with them over and over again. For example, the lake scene at night (you’ll know it when you get to it)… my heart melted for them.

Overall, I felt McCabe did a nice job keeping the characters’ voices, which allowed for me to stay invested and connected with the story. She also did a good job sharing the brutality of war… it was not all picturesque and romantic. The war was harsh. There was blood, a lot of blood. There were limbs severed off, bodies obliterated, letters that never made it home, and people that were never found. The war was cruel, and McCabe captured these details.

Looking at my collection of Civil War books from when I was working on my MA, I found a few I felt reconnected with reading McCabe’s book. Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg! by George C. Rable was a book that really kept the brutality of war in the forefront, like McCabe’s battle and camp scenes. For Cause and Comrades by James M. McPherson is another great read on why men went to fight in the war – the comradeship, duty, honor, letters home and even the desertion and post-traumatic stress that followed. One last read that really resonated throughout McCabe’s read and was clearly well researched by her was An Uncommon Soldier by Lauren Cook Burgess.  Did you know there were women who went into battle and fought along side men… not as nurses, not as camp followers and laundresses… there were real women who changed their appearance – cut their hair, put on men’s clothes, and marched into the camps to join up and fight in the war. These reads are worth the reference before or after you read I Shall Be Near to You.

One last note to compliment the book and a little side fieldtrip I took during the read: I am currently taking a Business of Wine class for fun through George Mason University. We had a fieldtrip this past week to The Winery at Bull Run, where they really do embrace the Civil War and preserve its memory. I highly recommend a trip to taste their wines if you are in the area and touring the battlefields. As I finished McCabe’s book, I needed to think on it some more so I poured myself a glass of their peach wine from The Winery at Bull Run. Excellent wine made with 100% peaches… not too sweet or syrupy like many fruit wines come off. Light, great chilled, and made a perfect glass to allow me to sit back and reflect on what I had just read.

Overall, great book by McCabe I highly recommend for the historical fiction lover. I am so glad I had the opportunity to read this book and reconnect with our country’s past. Enjoy!

pj - christina

 

Michelle’s Review: Voyager by Diana Gabaldon


Michelle’s Review: Voyager by Diana GabaldonVoyager by Diana Gabaldon
Published by Delta Trade Paperbacks on 2001-08-01
Genres: Fiction, General, Literary, Romance
Pages: 870
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
three-stars
In this rich, vibrant tale, Diana Gabaldon continues the story of Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser that began with the now-classic novel Outlander and continued in Dragonfly in Amber. Sweeping us from the battlefields of eighteenth-century Scotland to the exotic West Indies, Diana Gabaldon weaves magic once again in an exhilarating and utterly unforgettable novel.... Their love affair happened long ago by whatever measurement Claire Randall took. Two decades before, she had traveled back in time and into the arms of a gallant eighteenth-century Scot named Jamie Fraser. Then she returned to her own century to bear his child, believing him dead in the tragic battle of Culloden. Yet his memory has never lessened its hold on her ... and her body still cries out for him in her dreams.When she discovers that Jamie may have survived, Claire must choose her destiny. And as time and space come full circle, she must find the courage to face what awaits her ... the deadly intrigues raging in a divided Scotland ... and the daring voyage into the dark unknown that lies beyond the standing stones.

*Because this is a review of a book in a series, there are some spoilers regarding the previous books in the series, not this one.*

At this point in the Outlander series, I’m becoming quite torn about them.

I was able to defend the series when I had already read the first one. Outlander was unlike anything else I had read at the time and I was definitely hooked. It was romance, it was adventure, historical fiction, and science fiction. It was basically everything without being too crazy.

Dragonfly in Amber was a struggle with France but I still enjoyed it and wanted to continue.

Now with Voyager it was back to being an adventure and it was still enjoyable, but now I have found myself having a hard time defending this book against those who call it drivel or far-fetched.

“Well, Jamie survived Culloden, and then he went and lived in a cave. But he kept living and then became a smuggler and now they’re dealing with pirates…”

There’s no way for it to not sound ridiculous. Which unfortunate because it’s still enjoyable book, it’s just no longer at the same level as the first book.

Another thing that detracted from my full enjoyment is the way the language seemed to skip to me. I know that I have the tendency to read paragraphs out of order, but I swear that too often I thought the characters were in one place only to learn that they were somewhere else. It was like certain details were missing.

All that said, I loved the return to high adventure and I went ahead and bought the next book in the series. Because I’m a sucker for Jamie (as he was manufactured to be irresistible).

pj - michelle

Michelle’s Review: Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon


Michelle’s Review: Dragonfly in Amber by Diana GabaldonDragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
Published by Delta Trade Paperbacks on 1992
Genres: Fiction, General, Historical, Romance, Time Travel
Pages: 743
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
three-half-stars
With her now-classic novel Outlander, Diana Gabaldon introduced two unforgettable characters -- Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser--delighting readers with a story of adventure and love that spanned two centuries. Now Gabaldon returns to that extraordinary time and place in this vivid, powerful follow-up to Outlander.... For twenty years Claire Randall has kept her secrets. But now she is returning with her grown daughter to Scotland's majestic mist-shrouded hills. Here Claire plans to reveal a truth as stunning as the events that gave it birth: about the mystery of an ancient circle of standing stones ... about a love that transcends the boundaries of time ... and about James Fraser, a Scottish warrior whose gallantry once drew a young Claire from the security of her century to the dangers of his.... Now a legacy of blood and desire will test her beautiful copper-haired daughter, Brianna, as Claire's spellbinding journey of self-discovery continues in the intrigue-ridden Paris court of Charles Stuart ... in a race to thwart a doomed Highlands uprising ... and in a desperate fight to save both the child and the man she loves....

After reading Outlander, I was so hooked on the story that I…

spoiled the series for myself.

There’s no good reason why, but I did. I read reviews with spoilers and different wikipedia articles, learning more about the events of each book. Why I didn’t just read the book, I don’t exactly know. But it’s safe to say that many of the reveal moments in this book was not exactly news to me.

However, I still enjoyed the book. It was lovely to go back to Jamie and Claire and see how their marriage evolves. They became very different people in France than they were in the Highlands, which unfortunately took away some of my enjoyment from the book. France became very tedious, dealing more with political intrigue and domesticity. Compared to the crazy adventures in the Highlands, this shift was almost too much and it was comforting to hear the same things echoed by fellow readers. (Including my mother who is reading it now. I have told her the same thing I was told: just get through France and it gets better.)

And that’s true. Without going too much in the details to spoil other potential readers (like I had done myself), the book does get better towards the end. Is it enough for me to give it a higher rating…likely no.

I am torn with my rating. Is it a three, where I liked it but didn’t love it thanks to France and the lack of novelty making it seem a little more ridiculous? Or is it a four, that I loved it enough to want to keep reading the series?

This series has become a little problematic to me. I’ll say more in my Voyager review, but it’s suffice to say that at a minimum I will likely see Jamie and Claire to the end, regardless.

pj - michelle

Christina’s Review: Bella Gioconda by Richard Heket


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

Christina’s Review: Bella Gioconda by Richard HeketBella Gioconda by Richard Heket
Published by Lavender and Chamomile Press on 2014-04-20
Genres: Fiction, General, Historical, Romance
Pages: 167
Format: eBook
Source: the publisher
Goodreads
four-stars
Five hundred years can confuse identity. An old chalk drawing of a girl, Maria, the daughter of a Chianti vintner leaves a Swiss art collector, Claude Beauvin entangled in a Renaissance love story from the past. The drawing is currently owned by a reclusive young widow, Andrea Garibaldi-Chase, who puts the drawing up for auction. With smoldering rumors that Leonardo da Vinci is the artist of the portrait, history is set on fire by a New York art dealer, an art history professor, and an intellectual property crimes investigator from INTERPOL who are all caught up in the drawings history. It's not until after the auction that Beauvin learns who the girl really was, what influence she had over da Vinci and the centuries since, and how his growing feelings for Andrea transcends time and identity.

This book was refreshingly different from others I have read recently. It was short (less than 200 pages) and had a storyline that hit my interest. Art, history, wine… what more could I ask for!

The story crossed over a period of 500 years, alternating between Leonardo da Vinci’s life and 2009 in the United States when a mysterious art piece was about to go to auction. There was interest in the art piece… could there have been a connection with this piece between the infamous da Vinci, or was it just a pretty piece? Could a connection between the piece and da Vinci even be proven if there was one? That is for me to now know and for future readers to find out.

Heket incorporated art history and drawing techniques which really caught my interest. He also added more scientific details, such as fingerprint analysis which added a new element of complexity to the story being told. The story felt believable for me as the author crossed over time and added dialogue between da Vinci and other characters. I escaped into the details and really felt like I was seeing a side of da Vinci that was rarely seen.

Heket added multiple story lines to this book. In addition to the da Vinci story, there was the story related to the piece that was potentially going up for auction. The relationships between the characters and this artwork added a whole other element to the story that kept me wondering how things would end, and would there be a twist?

I received this book for free from the publishing company, Lavender and Chamomile Press, and read it on my Kindle. I am glad I took the time to enjoy the story. It was a quick read, an escape, and one that I would pair next time with a glass of wine to correlate with the vineyard location and add to the experience. I recommend this book especially for the art history lover and artist.

pj - christina