Friday, March 27, 2015

Blog Tour Review: Lady of the Eternal City by Kate Quinn

From the Back Cover:

National bestselling author Kate Quinn returns with the long-awaited fourth volume in the Empress of Rome series, an unforgettable new tale of the politics, power, and passion that defined ancient Rome.

Elegant, secretive Sabina may be Empress of Rome, but she still stands poised on a knife’s edge. She must keep the peace between two deadly enemies: her husband Hadrian, Rome’s brilliant and sinister Emperor; and battered warrior Vix, who is her first love. But Sabina is guardian of a deadly secret: Vix’s beautiful son Antinous has become the Emperor’s latest obsession.

Empress and Emperor, father and son will spin in a deadly dance of passion, betrayal, conspiracy, and war. As tragedy sends Hadrian spiraling into madness, Vix and Sabina form a last desperate pact to save the Empire. But ultimately, the fate of Rome lies with an untried girl, a spirited redhead who may just be the next Lady of the Eternal City…

My Thoughts:

Kate Quinn has quickly become one of my favorite historical fiction authors. It's no small thing to weave a story with dozens of characters over three books and a forty-year time span and keep a reader hanging on every word. It takes true talent not only to bring history to life but to do so with (seemingly) effortless style and dignity. Kate now ranks among some pretty illustrious company on my shelf of honor, including Sharon Kay Penman, Elizabeth Chadwick, and Diana Gabaldon.

I have been dying to read Lady of the Eternal City ever since that cliffhanger ending of Empress of the Seven Hills. In that book, we watched as young Romans Sabina and Vix came of age as friends and lovers and then separated to follow their destinies, Vix to the legions and Sabina to the world of politics as wife of the rising legate Publius Hadrian. But their paths were fated to cross numerous times as Vix rose through the ranks and Sabina's husband became the favorite to follow Emperor Trajan.

This book opens with Hadrian's ascension to emperor and the execution of his rivals for the throne. Vix has been hardened by his hatred for the man he is forced to serve and the things he has been forced to do, and Sabina has become disillusioned and wary, hiding a huge secret from her increasingly erratic husband. The emotional tension in this novel runs at full-throttle as Hadrian cements his power, friends become enemies and enemies become friends, tragedy creates unlikely allies, and the future of an empire hangs in the balance. The plot is meticulously crafted from the beginning of Hadrian's reign to the end, encompassing war, religious strife, cultural awakenings, political machinations, and all of the very human emotions of the players who left their mark on the world during this time.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Review: The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker

From the Back Cover:

The magic and suspense of Graceling meet the political intrigue and unrest of Game of Thrones in this riveting fantasy debut.

Elizabeth Grey is one of the king's best witch hunters, devoted to rooting out witchcraft and doling out justice. When she's accused of being a witch herself, Elizabeth is arrested and sentenced to die at the stake. Salvation comes from a man she thought was her enemy. Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful wizard in the kingdom, offers her a deal: he will save her from execution if she can track down the person who laid a deadly curse on him.

As she's thrust into the world of witches, ghosts, pirates, and all-too-handsome healers, Elizabeth is forced to redefine her ideas of right and wrong, of friends and enemies, and of love and hate. 

My Thoughts:

I had really high hopes for this historical fantasy debut, but it didn't quite live up to my expectations. Almost a month passed between when I read this and when I wrote my review, and I could hardly remember a thing about it before I skimmed back through it, so I think that's pretty telling. A medieval world filled with witches and wizards, revenants and prophets, magic and alchemy should be extremely gripping and atmospheric . . . but it's not so much.

I had some issues with the presentation of Elizabeth's character. There's a twist early on when we find out what Elizabeth has been doing with her nights, and I really felt like it merited more explanation and emotional exploration. That kind of secret has got to take a toll on a young woman, but we don't know if it does on Elizabeth because she never talks about it. And later in the story, Elizabeth is confronted with some startling truths about the world she thought she knew, but really, I couldn't help but think that a smart girl like her should have figured it all out much sooner. I did.

Combine that lack of depth with some uneven pacing and a superficial romance, and eventually I realized I was reading just to get to the end and see how it would all play out. There was a lot of potential here for in-depth characterization and gritty storytelling, but it wasn't fully realized and ending up feeling rather simplistic. The Witch Hunter is by no means a bad book--it certainly has its share of action and excitement--but I found it to be ultimately forgettable in a genre where the bar has been set high by some fantastic stories.

My Rating:  3 Stars out of 5

*Please Note: This review references an advance copy received from the publisher through the Amazon Vine program. These are my honest and unbiased opinions, and I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Spotlight: The Prince's Doom by David Blixt

Please join author David Blixt as he tours the blogosphere with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for The Prince’s Doom, the fourth book in the Star Cross’d series, from March 16-April 3

Publication Date: December 23, 2014
Sordelet Ink
Paperback; 722p
ISBN: 0615894437
Series: Book Four, Star Cross'd Series
Genre: Historical Fiction

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The long-awaited explosive fourth novel in the Star-Cross'd series! Verona has won its war with Padua, but lost its war with the stars. The young prodigy Cesco now turns his troubled brilliance to darker purposes, embracing a riotous life and challenging not only the lord of Verona and the Church, but the stars themselves. Trying desperately to salvage what's left of his spirit, for once Pietro Alaghieri welcomes the plots and intrigues of the Veronese court, hoping they will shake the young man out of his torpor. But when the first body falls, it becomes clear that this new game is deadly, one that will doom them all.

Praise for David Blixt

'For anyone who has yet to read David's novels, you are about to hit the literary lottery. Yes, he's that good.' --Sharon Kay Penman, The Sunne In Splendour

'David Blixt is a master of historical fiction. Dramatic, vivid, superbly researched, this series captures Renaissance Italy in all its heady glamour and lethal intrigue.' --C.W. Gortner, The Tudor Conspiracy

'This is one of the most exciting, and satisfying, reads that I have immersed myself in for a long time. David Blixt is a gem of a writer.' --Helen Hollick, The Pendragon Chronicles

The Star Cross'd Series

Based on the plays of William Shakespeare, the poetry of Dante, and the history of Italy, the Star-Cross'd Series is a tale of wars won, friendships lost, and conspiracies both mortal and stellar, an epic journey into the birth of the Renaissance that recalls the best of Bernard Cornwell and Dorothy Dunnett.

Titles in the Star Cross'd Series

Book One: Master of Verona
Book Two: Voice of the Falconer
Book Three: Fortune's Fool
Book Four: The Prince's Doom

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About the Author

03_David Blixt AuthorAuthor and playwright David Blixt's work is consistently described as "intricate," "taut," and "breathtaking." A writer of Historical Fiction, his novels span the early Roman Empire (the COLOSSUS series, his play EVE OF IDES) to early Renaissance Italy (the STAR-CROSS'D series, including THE MASTER OF VERONA, VOICE OF THE FALCONER, FORTUNE'S FOOL, and THE PRINCE’S DOOM) up through the Elizabethan era (his delightful espionage comedy HER MAJESTY'S WILL, starring Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe as inept spies). His novels combine a love of the theatre with a deep respect for the quirks and passions of history. As the Historical Novel Society said, "Be prepared to burn the midnight oil. It's well worth it." Living in Chicago with his wife and two children, David describes himself as "actor, author, father, husband. In reverse order."

For more information please visit David Blixt's website and blog. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

The Prince's Doom Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, March 16
Review at Book Nerd
Spotlight at What Is That Book About

Wednesday, March 18
Review, Guest Post, & Giveaway at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Spotlight at CelticLady's Reviews

Thursday, March 19
Excerpt at Becky on Books

Friday, March 20
Excerpt at The Never-Ending Book

Saturday, March 21
Spotlight & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time

Monday, March 23
Review at Griperang's Bookmarks

Tuesday, March 24
Guest Post & Giveaway at Griperang's Bookmarks

Wednesday, March 25
Review at Svetlana's Reads and Views
Spotlight & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

Friday, March 27
Spotlight at Flashlight Commentary

Monday, March 30
Excerpt at Buried Under Books

Tuesday, March 31
Spotlight at A Book Geek

Wednesday, April 1
Excerpt & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages

Thursday, April 2
Review at Quirky Book Reviews
Guest Post at Books and Benches

Friday, April 3
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation
Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Spotlight: Sudetenland by George T. Chronis

Please join George T. Chronis as he tours the blogosphere with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for Sudetenland, from March 16-27.

Publication Date: September 30, 2014
Formats: eBook
Genre: Historical Fiction

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Sudetenland is the premiere novel by author George T. Chronis. The book delivers suspenseful and sweeping historical fiction set against Central European intrigue during the late 1930s leading up to 1938’s Munich Conference. Having swallowed up Austria, Adolph Hitler now covets Czechoslovakian territory. Only France has the power to stand beside the government in Prague against Germany… but will she? The characters are the smart and sometimes wise-cracking men and women of this era – the foreign correspondents, intelligence officers, diplomats and career military – who are on the front lines of that decade’s most dangerous political crisis. If Czechoslovak president Edvard Beneš ignores the advice of French premier Édouard Daladier and refuses to give up Bohemian territory willingly, then Hitler orders that it be taken by force. The novel takes readers behind the scenes into the deliberations and high drama taking place within major European capitals such as Prague, Paris, Berlin, Vienna and London as the continent hurtles toward the crucible of a shooting war. 

Praise for Sudetenland

“Chronis impresses with such a challenging and intriguing debut effort, well written, impeccably researched.” — Melinda, Unshelfish

“Anyone that is looking for a thorough and rewarding read will enjoy Sudetenland.” — Diana, BookNerd

“The plot moves quickly along keeping you intrigued with well defined characters and great imagery to help immerse yourself in the story… I adored the way George managed to weave together the tragedy of war, depression and politics with romance, love and hope.” — Jennifer, pirategrl1014

Buy the Book

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Barnes & Noble

Monday, March 23, 2015

Book Blast: Mademoiselle Chanel by C.W. Gortner

Please join author C.W. Gortner as his latest release, Mademoiselle Chanel, is featured around the blogosphere from March 17-April 3, and enter to win one of three fabulously chic, Chanel-style black and white beaded bracelets! 

Publication Date: March 17, 2015
William Morrow/HarperCollins
Formats: Hardover, eBook, Audio Book
Genre: Historical Fiction

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DRAMA, PASSION, TRAGEDY, AND BEAUTY: C.W.’s new novel stunningly imagines the life of Coco Chanel—the iconic fashion designer whose staggering creativity built an empire and made her one of the 20th century’s most influential, and controversial, figures. 

Born into rural poverty, Gabrielle Chanel and her sisters are sent to a convent orphanage after their mother’s death. Here, the nuns nurture Gabrielle’s exceptional sewing skills, a talent that will propel her into a life far removed from the drudgery of her childhood.

Transforming herself into Coco—a seamstress and sometime torch singer—the petite brunette burns with ambition, an incandescence that draws a wealthy gentleman who will become the love of her life. She immerses herself in his world of money and luxury, discovering a freedom that sparks her creativity. But it is only when her lover takes her to Paris that Coco discovers her destiny.

Rejecting the frilly, corseted silhouette of the past, her sleek minimalist styles reflect the youthful ease and confidence of the 1920s modern woman. As Coco’s reputation spreads, her couturier business explodes, taking her into rarefied society circles and bohemian salons. Her little black dress, her signature perfume No. 5; her dramatic friendships, affairs, and rivalries with luminaries of her era increase her wealth and fame. But as the years pass, success cannot save her from heartbreak. And when Paris falls to the Nazis during World War II, Coco finds herself at a dangerous crossroads, forced to make choices that will forever change her.

An enthralling portrayal of an extraordinary woman who created the life she desired, Mademoiselle Chanel is Coco’s intimate story.

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Praise for Mademoiselle Chanel

“In this deliciously satisfying novel, C.W. Gortner tells the epic, rags-to-riches story of how this brilliant, mercurial, self-created woman became a legend.” (Christina Baker Kline, New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train)

“In a novel as brilliant and complicated as Coco Chanel herself, C. W. Gortner’s prose is so electric and luminous it could be a film, and not just any film, but one of the grandest biopics of our time. Divine!” (Erika Robuck, bestselling author of Hemingway's Girl)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Blog Tour Q&A + Giveaway with Sandra Byrd, Author of Mist of Midnight

Please join me in welcoming Sandra Byrd to Let Them Read Books! Sandra is touring the blogosphere with her newest novel, the first book in a brand new Gothic romance series, the Daughters of Hampshire! I loved the first book, Mist of Midnight, and I think you will too! I had the chance to ask Sandra a few questions about crafting a traditional Gothic romance for today's readers. Check it out and enter to win a lace bookmark!

Hi Sandra! Thank you for taking the time to appear on Let Them Read Books!

Thank you for hosting me, Jenny. It's always a pleasure!

The Daughters of Hampshire trilogy marks a bit of a departure from your previous novels. What inspired you to take on the Gothic genre?

I love reading Gothic romances, but have found it difficult to find many new ones that were written with the "traditional ingredients."

I did want to update the concept a little for modern readers. I like more of the hero on the page than was present in quite a few of the Gothic romance novel of years past, and I like my heroines to be a little bit less waifish and a little stronger minded than was popular then. I wanted to include just a wee bit more hard history, and I like weaving in an element of faith. But I tried my best to stick to the elements readers expect from a Gothic romance:

  1. A large property, in need of attention and affection, already in disrepair. In some ways, the house represents the heroine.
  2. A Byronic hero, who might be questionable, but is always conflicted.
  3. Characters around that are trustworthy . . . or not. Especially servants.
  4. Psychological underpinnings, perhaps including madness or a suspicion of it.
  5. A supernatural element, whether naturally explained or not.

Can you highlight some of the different challenges in writing about fictional characters versus famous historical figures?

On one level, writing about historical figures is easier because much of the world and life building is done for you. However, in that case, you're also battling the expectations readers have about a real person, someone they have likely met many times, in books, and for me, I want to stay true to the history. So it's developing something that has both fidelity and freshness.