The Bird King: A Review

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. My views remain my own.

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The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

Synopsis:

From award-winning author G. Willow Wilson, The Bird King is an epic journey set during the reign of the last sultan in the Iberian peninsula at the height of the Spanish Inquisition.

G. Willow Wilson’s debut novel Alif the Unseen was an NPR and Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and it established her as a vital American Muslim literary voice. Now she delivers The Bird King, a stunning new novel that tells the story of Fatima, a concubine in the royal court of Granada, the last emirate of Muslim Spain, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker.

Hassan has a secret–he can draw maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls?

As Fatima and Hassan traverse Spain with the help of a clever jinn to find safety, The Bird King asks us to consider what love is and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate.

My review:

I was drawn to this one because I have enjoyed some of Wilson’s previous books. This one sounded intriguing, both for the historical aspect and the fantastical element. It took me a little while, but it wasn’t long before I was truly hooked.  I feel like I learned so much from this book. I don’t know much about medieval Spain. This has got the beginning of the Inquisition, and the threat to both our main characters is truly terrifying.

The strongest part of the book is definitely the characters. Both Fatima and Hassan were clearly drawn, fully dimensional characters with believable motives and flaws. I loved their relationship. Then there was the jinn. I liked that he was so untrustworthy, and yet so appealing.

If there was one thing that made this a little bit hard to stick with I think it was the pacing. It seemed a little uneven. But I would recommend it for those who want to try a mix of historical fiction and magical realism.

 

 

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To Catch the Conscience of the King: a Review

Disclaimer: I was given this book for free in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. My views,  however, remain my own.
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To Catch the Conscience of the King: A Novel by Martin White

Trigger Warning: sexual assault and torture.

Synopsis:

“To Catch the Conscience of the King” is set against the background of King Edward II’s downfall and is told from the perspective of Brother Stephen, who, as the king’s confessor, sets out to save the royal soul, but instead places his own in jeopardy.

Set just after the downfall of Edward of Carnarvon in 1327, this story centers around young Brother Stephen who is caught up in the final days of the former king. Brother Stephen witnesses the execution of the king’s reputed lover, Hugh de Spencer. Reeling from the violent spectacle, Brother Stephen becomes ill and is slowly nursed back to health by a lay brother named Jerome.  When Jerome becomes a little obsessive, the abbot decides a separation is the best idea and send Stephen off on a secret mission. Stephen becomes confessor to the imprisoned former king. It’s his job to save the king’s soul.

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Edward II receiving the crown

Review:

I had a hard time getting into this book. It starts with a crowd awaiting the execution of Hugh DeSpencer and then goes into excruciating detail on being assaulted by a crowd, mutilated, then hung until unconscious, disembowelled, and finally pulled apart. It is beyond gruesome, but having gone that far, I decided to finish the book. The story moves at a brisk pace at first. I was a little confused about who was who and what they wanted, but I’m familiar enough with English history to have a basic idea of what’s going on. It felt like so much to keep track of though.

At its heart, this is really a story about the tension between romantic love and love of God. Like Edward, whose doomed love affairs with two young men turned England and the Church against him, Brother Stephen is a homosexual. He has repented and wants to bring the former king the same peace. But Edward refuses to tell the whole story. This tension between the two of the goes on for quite some time in the book.

Although the book wasn’t perfect, I did enjoy it – until it came to the very ending. And that’s when the the book took an unexpected turn that I didn’t expect and didn’t really like. Of course, I can’t tell you more without spoiling it, and it didn’t ruin the book, but I felt it weakened the story quite a bit.

I’m not sure who I would recommend this book for. I did enjoy it, but the complex historical details are not for everyone. This is a debut by this author and I’m curious to see if he writes more.

Sawdust in His Shoes

Sawdust in His Shoes by Eloise McGraw Jarvis.

One minute Joe is on top of the world – fame, applause, friends – the next he is orphaned, homeless, and unemployed. When his father is killed, Joe hopes he’ll be able to stay in the circus and live with an old friend. But the court needs time to consider the matter. Soon the circus must move on and Joe is shoved into a boys’ home. Joe decides to set off on his own instead, but it’s only after meeting an extraordinary ordinary family that things finally start looking up.

A few years ago I read another book by Jarvis and really enjoyed it. (The Golden Goblet) When I heard she had a new book out, I was pleased but surprised. She must be pretty lucky to be writing new stuff so long after her previous book. It turns out that this is a new edition of her very first novel, which explains its old-fashioned feel. It’s set during the height of the traveling circus, when tractors were replacing horse drawn plows, when telephones were on the party line and no television existed. A circus was seen as glamorous and exotic, not quite respectable.

Joe is a brash, daring kid with a quick temper. He’s kind of a mess when his dad dies. It takes a family like the Dawsons to help him heal.

I really enjoyed this book. It did take me a little while to get into it, but that might have been me. Once I got started, the story moved well enough. I think most lids would like this one. It was clean and perfect for your animal loving kids. It would be good one to read aloud too.

Must Read Graphic Novel!!

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You need this one!

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage – The Mostly True Story of the First Computer by Sydney Padua

Have you heard of Countess Ada Lovelace, daughter of poet Lord Byron? What about Charles Babbage? You should get to know this pair!

Book description:

THE THRILLING ADVENTURES OF LOVELACE AND BABBAGE . . . in which Sydney Padua transforms one of the most compelling scientific collaborations into a hilarious series of adventures.

Meet Victorian London’s most dynamic duo: Charles Babbage, the unrealized inventor of the computer, and his accomplice, Ada, Countess of Lovelace, the peculiar protoprogrammer and daughter of Lord Byron. When Lovelace translated a description of Babbage’s plans for an enormous mechanical calculating machine in 1842, she added annotations three times longer than the original work. Her footnotes contained the first appearance of the general computing theory, a hundred years before an actual computer was built. Sadly, Lovelace died of cancer a decade after publishing the paper, and Babbage never built any of his machines.

But do not despair! The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage presents a rollicking alternate reality in which Lovelace and Babbage do build the Difference Engine and then use it to build runaway economic models, battle the scourge of spelling errors, explore the wilder realms of mathematics, and, of course, fight crime—for the sake of both London and science. Complete with extensive footnotes that rival those penned by Lovelace herself, historical curiosities, and never-before-seen diagrams of Babbage’s mechanical, steam-powered computer, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage is wonderfully whimsical, utterly unusual, and, above all, entirely irresistible.

My review:

I completely fell in love with this book! It made me laugh so hard! The stories were great, the illustrations clever. The author adds so much historical data. I can’t pick my favorite story, the one with the Victorian novelists or the Looking Glass episode. If you are a nerd like me, you will love this one.

A Lack of Temperance – a review

A Lack of Temperance by Anna Loan-Wilsey

Hattie Davish arrives at her new job as a secretary to an older woman. But whe she get there, she finds that her employer is missing and she’s right in the middle of a storm over temperance. Her employer is the president of a large protest organization and they’re hosting a rally that week. But her new boss turns up dead and the police haven’t got much to go on. Hattie better figure out what’s going on before she become a victim herself.

I liked this series debut. The setting, Arkansas in the late 19th century, was well done. I liked the resort town. It’s certainly one that’s not overdone, so I hope that the writer keeps the books in the same area. But I wasn’t as crazy about the main character as I was about the setting. I felt that she was a little inconsistent and times and not especially likeable. Still, she might grow on me.

Overall, recommended. I received this book for review from LT Early Reviewers program.

Major Lord David, a review

Major Lord David by Sherry Lynn Ferguson


Decades of war with France are over and Napoleon Bonaparte is safely confined on Elba. Yet Major Lord David Trent finds his homecoming far from peaceful. His father, the Duke of Braughton, is determined to see his son wed, and he has a very specific bride in mind: his neighbor’s daughter. David cannot recall that the neighbor even has a daughter, much less one he might find appealing! And after years spent fighting on the Peninsula, he is in no mood to be ordered to court anyone.

Wilhelmina Caswell has always been in love with Lord David, as her family is well aware. Her preference, and the designs of both their fathers, would seem to make the match inevitable. But as the spring of 1815 advances along with an emboldened Bonaparte, a looming battle threatens thousands of lives and one growing love at Waterloo.

It’s funny how sometimes when you’re reading, all your books 📚 sort of align. I’m listening to a book about Napoleon in Egypt and then I started this one, which is about an English officer in the war against the French, and the in Touch there was a section about his life in Egypt.

This is a neat little historical romance between two lovers who grew up as neighbors and then fell in love. 💓 My problem though was that the conflict between the two was more annoying than believable. Billie was too afraid of her feelings or something to admit them. I got tired of that. It was really sudden on David’s part, but too slow on hers.

Some reviews mentioned not liking the descriptions of war in a romance book. I didn’t have any problem with that. The synopsis made it pretty clear that was was a major theme in the book. I’ve read other books set in the era that have similar passages, notably The Spanish Bride by Georgette Heyer. If you wanted pure romance, then this will probably not satisfy. I thought it was good enough that I want to read the next book in the series. All of these so far have been clean as far as sexual content, so if you like it steamy this book is not for you.

Deadly Engagement – a Review

 

Deadly Engagement by Lucinda Brant (Alec Halsey #1)

Synopsis: An eighteenth century historical mystery. Diplomat and amateur sleuth Alec Halsey becomes embroiled in countryhouse murder and mayhem. He must confront past demons in his love life and a cruel twist of fate that reveals why his brother now loathes him. If you love Sebastian St. Cyr novels by CS Harris and Julian Kestrel novels by Kate Ross then you’ll love Deadly Engagement.

My Thoughts:

When I opened this ebook, it was billed as a ‘crimance.’ Call me a word snob, but if I had seen that in the description, I never would have bothered reading it. What the heck is a crimance? But I can’t really hold that against the author because I don’t know who chose that word. It could have been her, but it could have been the editor, some PR person, or a random publishing exec. In any case, it’s such a horrible word!

But let’s put that aside and talk about the story. Alec arrives back in England after being posted in Paris. He goes to visit the woman he loves only to find that she is recently betrothed to his brother. And his former lover is there to witness his humiliation. Trying to forget his love, Alec learns that friend is dead from a duel, again with Alec’s brother, Edward. That guy is bad news. And he hates Alec.

Intrigue and romance all around, followed by a murder and attempted rape. I enjoyed the story and the setting, but the love angle wasn’t as convincing as it should have been. Still, I would read more by this author.

Valentine’s Romance

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It’s Valentine’s Day.

I know, I know, not everyone is into Valentine’s Day. Call it Singles Awareness Day, Galentine’s Day, Aro Awareness Day, whatever, I love a little romance in my life. Not always, not in everything, but once a year, what’s wrong with the hearts and flowers? What’s wrong with sending the message that true love does exist, that it endures and grows stronger over time? It’s not about the instant attraction, in my experience. It’s about the kind that survives challenges and keeps you together though thick and thin. My sweetheart and I are at 27 years together, and he still sends me sweet text messages and buys me flowers. My favorite part of every day is when he’s home.

Enough mush! You want to know about the books, amirite? Here is my list of 5 romances swoon-worthy enough for the most desperate romantic.

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More romantic stuff.
  1. The Scarlet Pimpernel  by Baroness Emmuska Orczy. Love AND the French Revolution! The movie version even has pre-Gandalf Ian McKellen and a fabulous Jane Seymour. The costumes are to die for! The hats alone – seriously, wow!

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Sir Percy Blakeney is a fantastic hero, although if you’re watching the movie, the disguises need a little modern updating, and the lovely Marguerite St. Just is a great heroine. The movie and the book have different final scenes, but both are very exciting. And even though this one is over 100 years old, it’s still easy to read.

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Enough lace yet?

2. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell. Another old-style romance. And by old style, I mean 1865! Molly is our main character and her new stepsister Cynthia is her new best friend. Her new stepmom, on the other hand, is well, not. Fear not, because true love awaits Molly and Cynthia. Hold on, you may be saying, I heard this book didn’t have an ending.

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We like hats too.

Well, you’re right. It doesn’t, not exactly. The author died before she got that far. But the movie – it has the perfect melt your heart ending. Should I just watch the movie Bite your tongue! There’s plenty here to love. It’s not as quick a read, but it’s so well written it draws you right in.

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Time for more hearts

3. Mrs. Mike by Nancy and Benedict Freeman. Wow, Cindy, I hear you saying, what’s with all this period drama? How about something modern? Fine, try this one, which is set in 1907, which practically happened yesterday. Katherine Mary O’Fallon falls in love – hard – with a dashing young Mountie. He wants to marry immediately and set off north. She doesn’t know what she’s getting into when she says yes. This one will rip your heart right out, but put it back in and you’ll be so freaking inspired you’ll want to read it all over again. I think there’s a movie of this one too, but I haven’t seen it so you can just imagine your Mountie looking like, well, this:

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“I’m heroic.”

Sorry, I couldn’t find a better photo without adding “hot Canadian mountie” and I just didn’t want to deal with what I’d find. So use your imagination. But seriously, read this book!

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So sweet!

4. The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer. These are great suggestions, I think some of you are saying (really, you’re all so chatty!), but I like a little humor with my romance! And maybe some mystery too. Got ya covered! It was hard to pick just one by Georgette Heyer, who is admittedly, my favorite romance author of all time, but this one has not one, but two heroines, one saved from the guillotine and one with a bit of sarcasm to match her beauty. The mystery is more of an adventure than truly mysterious, but dashing all the same. No movie here, or pictures either, so imagine whatever you like.

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All the hearts!

5. Persuasion by Jane Austen. You knew she was going to make it on the list eventually, didn’t you? I tried to include some more modern books, I really did, but I guess when it comes to true love I like it old school. Anne Elliot is the heroine I really want to be. Sure, Jane Bennett is wittier, and Emma Woodhouse is richer, but Anne is patient and loyal and she gets her man in the end. And what a man!

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At last!

There is a movie of this one, and it’s perfect for your Valentine’s Day. Hooray for true love! Tomorrow we can go back to every day life, but once year, believe in Happily Ever After.

 

Review: The Lost Spy

36264356 I was give a copy of this book by the writer in exchange for an honest review. My opinions remain my own.

Title: The Lost Spy, Slim Moran #1

Author: Kate Moira Ryan

Synopsis:

It is Paris, 1949. 27-year-old American detective and heiress, Slim Moran, is hired by a British spymistress to find Marie-Claire, a spy long presumed dead. Slim soon realizes that scores from the last war have not been settled. She races to find out what happened to this deeply troubled lost spy because if Marie-Claire is not dead, she will be soon.

My review:

World War II is over. Slim Moran isn’t ready to return to the US or to England. She’s happy to stay with her lover in Paris, and opens an agency to find displaced persons. She hasn’t had many cases when she is contacted by someone from the SOE looking for a missing radio operator, believed to be captured and killed by the Nazis. But there’s just a possibility that she might be alive. Will Slim be able to get to the truth of what happened to Marie-Claire?

I wasn’t really crazy about this book. It started off with an interesting premise, a good strong setting, but then I got turned off by the number of times people would just sit around and talk and Slim would do nothing at all to verify their stories, to press them, to look for clues. There was a whole lot of nothing happening. I feel like maybe that’s not fair, but something about the actual detection part of mystery just didn’t work. There were too many times Slim just accepted things at face value.

The tangled relationships made it difficult to care about these characters as well. I liked the introduction of Edith Piaf as a performer and Marlene Dietrich – little touches like that really helped with the setting. But it honestly wasn’t enough to save the book for me. I would say if you are interested in the setting, to give it a try. It might also be that it’s just suffering from first book blues.

Thanks for the chance to read this one.

Mini reviews #2

I’ve been reading a lot lately, but kind of in a slump. I’ve had a hard time finding something that would keep my interest. But I wanted to share my thoughts, so here’s my list of what I’ve read lately in order of least enjoyed to most enjoyed.

Buried or A Buried Tale (both titles listed on Goodreads, so I don’t know which is right) by C J Carmichael. This is the first in a series about a small town attacked by a serial killer. A writer gets a tip about some old cases that were never solved. I found it kind of boring at the beginning and as I got into it, I didn’t like any of the characters. The MC was a jerk and everyone had secrets that make it hard to trust them. The book was free on Kindle but I just didn’t want to finish it.


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What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell. This one sounded more interesting, sort of a YA noir thing about a teenager post WWII, a coming of age story. But it’s hard to remember ever being so naive. Again, I didn’t like the MC who can’t wait to smoke real cigarettes and be glamorous! It was obvious the big reveal was going to be around parental infidelity and maybe murder and I just wasn’t interested in sticking with it. Another disappointment. It won some award, but I really don’t see why. Other books have told similar stories and done it better. Great cover though.


Chimera Catalyst by Susan Kuchinskas, Finder #1  This one was given to be for an honest review by the author, and it sounded pretty different. It’s set in the near future with climate change and gene splicing creating some strange consequences for most. The MC is a private detective asked to find a missing woman. Turns out the missing woman is a ‘chimera’ – mix of human and animal genes designed to be a rich man’s plaything. I liked the deeper issues this brought up, the questions of morality of how these technologies will change society, but while I was interested in the outcome of the story, I found it hard to follow the complicated storyline and sort out who was whom. I think this one needed a little more editing.


Here you go. None that I really loved, but all new authors to me and maybe to you too. I’m currently rereading The Alloy of Law and that’s a good one and a new book by Peter Lovesey that has me guessing at where he’s going. Maybe those will pull me out of my slump.