Book Preview – The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

I have had Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel The Historian sitting on my To Read shelf for some time so while I recognized her name when her upcoming The Shadow Land came up in my possible preview pile, I hadn’t actually read her work before. The Shadow Land also fell into my recent inclination towards historic fiction that explores the nations of Europe in the aftermath of World War II so I jumped to preview it. Though it proved for me to be slow reading, the depiction of life behind the Iron Curtain in the 1950s is a harsh one that the area struggles to deal with even in the decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Alexandra Boyd decided she needed a change so she signed up to teach English in Bulgaria but before she can even reach her hostel and start to settle in, things begin to go wrong. Assisting a middle-aged man and his elderly parents into a taxi, Alexandra soon discovers that one of their bags has gotten mixed in with her own. Containing the ashes of someone obviously dear to them, she sets about trying to find them again so she can return the urn and apologize for the mix-up. Her taxi driver, Asparuh who tells her to call him Bobby, offers to help her in her efforts to track the family down. Receiving an address from the police, Alexandra insists on returning the remains personally. As she and Bobby follow a trail of breadcrumbs, it becomes clear there’s more to the story of the man in the urn and his family than they realized. Continue reading

Book Preview – A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

a crown of wishes - book coverLast year The Star-Touched Queen was one of my favorite books of the year and this year Roshani Chokshi’s follow up novel, A Crown of Wishes promises to be an even bigger favorite of mine. Capturing all the lyrical and mythical elements of the last novel, A Crown of Wishes expands upon her already established world but also thematically addresses the power of something very near and dear to my heart: stories.

The coup planned by Maya’s younger sister Gauri has failed and she has landed in the custody of the kingdom of Ujijain whose relationship with Bharata is tenuous and possibly dependent on whether or not they kill her––which is what her brother dearly wants. Vikram, the prince of Ujijain, cannot convince his adoptive father’s council to take him seriously or grant him more than just superficial power over the nation as his father plans to retire. He is tasked with informing Gauri of her approaching execution but a messenger of sorts reaches him first with an invitation to the Tournament of Wishes held by the King of Riches in Alaka, one of the kingdoms of the Otherworld. The invitation is for him and a partner matching Gauri’s description. Rather than announce her death, he gives her the choice to join him in the tournament or not. And so their story begins. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

witchfinder's sister - book coverOne of my favorite classes in college was a history course where our focus was on witches. We examined various outbreaks of witch scares in Europe and the American colonies, compared how they unfolded and the methods for dealing with the accused, we looked at who the accused tended to be and why they might have been accused (spoiler alert: mostly widows and single women who were in more independent positions than the men in their communities were comfortable with them having). So a novel like Beth Underdown’s upcoming The Witchfinder’s Sister should be right up my alley.

Having just lost her husband in an accident, Alice returns home to her brother, Matthew’s, home where their mother has also recently died. It has been several years since Alice has seen her brother who did not approve of her marriage and in their time apart it quickly becomes clear to Alice that much about him has changed. He has gained a noted position in their old community since he has become involved in taking down complainants’ accounts and questioning accused witches in the area. Alice is horrified but convinces herself that it will all blow over in the end while also piecing together the truth of what happened in her parents’ household that might be driving Matthew in his mission. Will she be able to save anyone from her brother? Continue reading

Book Preview – The Forgotten Girls by Owen Laukkanen

forgotten girls - book coverThis is the second time I’ve inadvertently read a book from the middle of an ongoing series rather than started from the beginning. Incidentally, both series happen to be in the crime/thriller genre and—due in part to the nature of the genre—both worked well enough as standalone novels (the first more so than this one). The Forgotten Girls by Owen Laukkanen will be the sixth book in his Stevens & Windermere series when it is released on March 14.

If you’ve ever seen a crime procedural on television, you’re probably familiar with the facts: that many victims of violent crime are women, that women of color are disproportionately victims of violent crime, and that transients, drug addicts, and sex workers are likely to wind up as victims of violent crime. These are the very demographics that make up the target victims of a dangerous serial killer train hopping around the northern Midwest. It’s a case that falls into Stevens and Windermere’s laps and quickly proves larger and—thanks to the winter weather—tricky hunt for the killer. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers

second mrs hockadayAlways game for a novel set during and around the events of the American Civil War, I didn’t have to read too far into the description of Susan Rivers’ soon-to-be-released The Second Mrs. Hockaday before I knew I wanted to read it. I didn’t think much of the fact that the novel promised to tell the story in question through letters, journal entries, and inquest papers—it actually would have made it more appealing because telling a story through such limited means can lead to particularly creative story-telling. In the case of The Second Mrs. Hockaday however, I think these narrative conventions fail to live up to that potential and ultimately rob the story of some of its natural tension.

Placidia Fincher Hockaday met her husband the day of her step-sister’s wedding and married him the next day when she was but seventeen years old. A widower with an infant son, Major Gryffth Hockaday and his new bride didn’t have much time to themselves before he was called back to the Confederate front lines by his commanders. For the remaining two years the war lasted, they were separated with Placidia running his farm, raising his son, and commanding his slaves. When he returned at the end of the war, he discovered that there were scandalous rumors about just what his wife had been up to in his absence—and with whom. Decades later, the Hockaday children—having buried their parents—begin to uncover their mother’s secrets from those two years, what drove a wedge between their parents, and what brought the couple back together again in the end. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

bear and the nightingaleI am incredibly happy to be starting a new year of reviews with this book because it was a fantastic book to be reading as this last year came to an end. After finishing it I went back and reread the initial description that inspired me to put it on my preview request list—having forgotten everything about that description in the months between submitting my request and reading the book. I had to laugh because usually, those descriptions feel strategically written with an eye towards marketing—which, of course, they are—but in this case I found completely accurate. Katherine Arden’s upcoming The Bear and the Nightingale reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and is also “recommended” for fans of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (which I just got a personal copy of for Christmas so I can read and enjoy it all over again).

It is some years after Pyotr Vladimirovich’s beloved wife Marina died following the birth of their youngest daughter, Vasilisa (called Vasya), but he finally admits that the time has come for him to remarry—mostly so there is another woman around to help with Vasya who appears to take her nurse’s fairy tales a little too literally. Journeying with his two oldest sons to Moscow, Pyotr returns with a devout new wife and a gift for Vasya from an odd stranger. Vasya can do nothing right in the eyes of her new stepmother but it isn’t until a new priest arrives in the village (determined to bring the fear of God to the northern people and save their souls) that more devastating effects threaten the village as the people begin neglecting the protective household spirits of old.

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Book Preview – The Memory Stones by Caroline Brothers

memory stones - book coverThe premise of Caroline Brothers’ The Memory Stones caught my attention a while ago but it has taken me a while to get through the novel—due out tomorrow, October 25, 2016. A combination of lack of time (on my part) and a lack of compelling pacing (on the novel’s part) made this book a slog when it really shouldn’t have been. The story being told should be incredibly compelling and at times it is, but its presentation and organization left something to be desired.

Osvaldo and his family living in Buenos Aires in the late 1970’s find themselves at the mercy of an increasingly ominous and powerful junta regime. When Osvaldo takes a chance and criticizes the military commanders in power, he must flee the country for his own safety, leaving behind his wife. He soon gets word that their youngest daughter and her fiancé have disappeared but whether they’ve gone into hiding or have actually been abducted by the regime is unclear at first. A rumor that his daughter was pregnant when she was taken sets Osvaldo and his wife, Yolanda, on the path to locating not just their daughter but their grandchild as well. The fall of the junta doesn’t necessarily mean they will find the answers they seek but perseverance and time might bring this family back together in the end.

Set in a place and period of history that I am not familiar with but want to learn more about, some of the tension in the early chapters of the book is fantastic. Through Osvaldo’s perspective as a member of the older generation, it becomes clear how unexpected the regime’s takeover was, how it crept up on them so that it was well under way before anyone thought to take significant action against them—so that, by the time anyone tried, it was already too late. The scenes between Osvaldo and his oldest daughter who was living with her husband in America as the situation in Argentina shifted, is some of the most emotional, compelling, and significant of the novel. Similarly, Yolanda’s persistence in searching for her daughter and grandchild while separated physically from her husband drives a lot of the story’s beginning.

It is in the middle that the story loses its way a bit. Following the chronological timeline so strictly proved to be a hindrance. It meant a lot of time jumps were necessary to introduce new characters and give exposition on what was happening in Argentina as the junta eventually fell and those who had been dispossessed and adversely affected by the junta regime fought to have their rights restored, the crimes against them acknowledged, and reparations in some form secured. Osvaldo’s emotional arc feels static through this long stretch as he does little more than continue searching for his daughter and grandchild. It takes a while to feel a significant connection to new characters like Ana though the focus on her in the final chapters does bring some of the story back into focus. It all ends, however, just before the part of the story I think would prove most compelling. I understand why that narrative choice was made, I just felt strung along and cheated out of it by the novel’s conclusion.

I think playing with the presentation of events and the timeline in the later half of the novel would have improved its flow. Jumping forward in time here and there and giving the events of the intervening years as flash backs would have kept it moving at a more consistent pace.

 

*This preview is a bit overdue (adjusting to a new work schedule during a time of year that’s already ridiculously busy for personal reasons has put me even further behind than I was anticipating). I may not be posting with as much frequency as I used to do but I won’t let my blog fall silent the way it did when I was in graduate school (I refuse to be that busy again).

Book Preview – The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter by John Pipkin

The Blind Astronomer's Daughter - book coverI was fascinated and thoroughly enjoyed The Stargazer’s Sister last year, a novel about Caroline Herschel, the sister of eighteenth century astronomer William Herschel who became a prolific astronomer in her own right. The description for The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter promised to explore similar themes in a similar setting. While there are elements of what I was expecting—hoping—to find in the novel, Pipkin goes beyond focusing on his titular heroine and not always with tremendous success.

Fictitious astronomer Arthur Ainsworth is determined to find a new planet in the heavens so he can name it for his late wife and honor her legacy. It is a mission he enlists his daughter, Caroline, to help him with as he transforms his Irish estate into an observatory and commissions work on a telescope to rival that of William Herschel in England. But there is more going on in Ireland and there are more secrets in Caroline’s past than she is aware of until her father, blinded by looking too often at the sun through his telescope, dies. She learns the truth of who she is and it upends everything she once thought about herself, her father, and his work. It will take many years for Caroline to pick up the pieces of her shattered self and reassemble them into someone new, just as Ireland threatens to rip itself apart in 1798.

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Book Preview – The Upright Heart by Julia Ain-Krupa

upright heart - book coverIn the case of Julia Ain-Krupa’s upcoming The Upright Heart, I find myself once again in the situation where what I was expecting based on the description provided and what I actually got were two very different things. Yet, when I went back to the description it actually is very close to the story being told in the novel—it just didn’t prepare me at all for the way that story was going to be presented. Luckily, in this case the surprising difference between expectation and reality worked in the novel’s favor, and I can’t honestly think of a much better way that the book’s description could prepare the reader for the way the narrative unfolds.

In the years following World War II, the people of Poland—both living and dead—struggle to make peace with all that transpired. Wolf married and moved to America before the war while the rest of his family were killed in the war; he returns to his hometown to see what is left and to say the prayers for the dead in the hope he and they may rest easier. On another plane, his first love Olga—a Catholic who helped hide his family as long as she could—clings to him when he reappears; she is unable to move on but isn’t sure why. A young woman, Anna, sees and feels the spirits of the dead around her, uncertain whether the people she sees are among the living or the dead; she is also haunted by memories of her former coworker, a woman who concealed her Jewish identity when they both worked as maids in the household of the governor general’s subordinate. Wiktor and his family survived the war but an on-the-job accident shortly after its end leaves Wiktor’s family mourning his loss while his spirit seeks to assist the spirits of others who have been having trouble moving on. Continue reading

Book Review – The Unseen World by Liz Moore

unseen world - book coverThe Unseen World by Liz Moore—available in stores today—is another case of a fantastic description that, when I started actually reading the book, wasn’t really what I was expecting. It wasn’t entirely a bad thing, as the novel had strong thematic resonance, but it did take me a while to get invested in it—more so because of its pacing and organization. Weaving the early days of artificial intelligence development and computer programming with a deeply emotional personal tale, The Unseen World is a layered glimpse into the past while also looking forward to the possibilities of the future.

Ada Sibelius has lived an unusual life for a fourteen-year-old girl in 1980s Boston. Raised by her single father, she has spent much of her life with him at the computer sciences lab he directs, learning what he taught her and contributing to the lab group on their developing projects despite her youth. But when her father’s health begins to cause problems and confusion, Ada is forced into a more traditional school (a private Catholic school as opposed to public school, but a school where she must interact with her peers in age) where she must face the fact that she isn’t familiar with the social morays of being a teenager. As her father’s health and mental state continue to deteriorate, Ada learns that he had more secrets than anybody knew—secrets that cause Ada to question her own reality and identity as she struggles to unearth the truth. Continue reading

Book Preview – Since She Went Away by David Bell

book cover - since she went awayI’m kind of in the middle of a murder mystery kick, so when I read the description for David Bell’s upcoming Since She Went Away it seemed logical to add it to my list. While there are certainly plenty of mysteries within the novel, I didn’t find the path to the answers—or the mother and son whose perspectives form the main narrative—as engaging as I had hoped.

Jenna blames herself for her best friend’s disappearance several months earlier—it was Jenna who called Celia and suggested the two of them get together in the middle of the night and try to recapture some of the glory of their high school days and it was Jenna who ran late when they were supposed to meet in the park. She finds herself in a static and frustratingly helpless position, as every call could be terrific news or terrible news or worst of all—no news. But as winter moves towards spring and her son finds first love with a vaguely familiar new girl at his school, the seemingly cold case begins to thaw as new leads pop up.

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Book Preview – The Virgin’s War by Laura Andersen

virgin's war - book coverI had been looking forward to getting a chance to preview the final novel in The Boleyn Trilogy’s sequel trilogy from Laura Andersen. The Virgin War, while not quite as tight narratively as The Boleyn Reckoning (the final novel of the original trilogy) packed almost as much of an emotional punch and did so while having far more narrative threads in play and delving further and further into the realm of speculation as this alternative history continues to take its inspiration from actual historical events and movements.

The inevitable war between England and Spain draws closer but Elizabeth I and her daughter, Anne Isabella (Anabel), Princess of Wales, have long been laying the groundwork for a counter to the anticipated Spanish attack on English soil. Elizabeth’s former husband, Philip of Spain (and Anne’s father) is driven to pursue the war from a desire to save his daughter’s soul by restoring her to the true faith… and because his latest wife and mother to his young twin sons, Mary Stuart, has a huge grudge against Elizabeth. With a political marriage proposed between Anabel and James VI of Scotland in the works, Anabel has been winning support for herself in the north of England while she and her mother have fed the public belief that they have fallen out with one another and that the young princess is malleable as far as Spanish influence is concerned. Involved in many of the machinations and assisting the Tudor women are the members of the Courtenay family as all involved work to balance their emotional struggles with the need to do what must be done to protect and preserve England.

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Book Preview – The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

star touched queen - book coverThe description for Roshani Chokshi’s The Star-Touched Queen immediately drew me in from its promise of examining ideas related to fate to its origins in Indian mythology—an ancient mythology I am pretty much entirely unfamiliar with having had an education that focused primarily on the ancient mythologies of Western cultures. Because of this, I cannot attest to how heavily it draws from or relies on those deities and myths, but I can say that knowing next to nothing did not deter my enjoyment and appreciation for the story being told.

Born to the Raja of Bharata, Mayavati (Maya) is largely ostracized by the women in her father’s harem—his wives and her half-sisters—because of her horoscope and the fact that unfortunate things seem to befall those around her. At seventeen, Maya has long been spying on her father’s court and the diplomacy that takes place there. But war has raged for many years and it seems that peace can only be bartered through Maya’s marriage to a man from one of the other kingdoms—except there appears to be no choice that will not be viewed as a slight to one or more of the other kingdoms. When Maya is left to make her choice, an unexpected option presents itself in the form of Amar, the Raja of Akaran—a kingdom Maya does not recognize. Akaran proves to be a realm between worlds and Amar is not allowed to divulge its secrets to Maya until the next moon cycle. This proves long enough for doubt and suspicion to burrow into Maya and Amar’s relationship and wreaking havoc across many worlds and realms in the process. Continue reading

Book Preview – I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

i let you go - book coverClare Mackintosh’s debut novel, I Let You Go, is being released in North America in a few weeks. While I hadn’t heard about the book prior to reading the description, I’m not surprised that it’s been a hit in the UK pretty much since it’s 2014 release there—I am a bit surprised it hasn’t been released in the US sooner. Though it can be read as a thriller, there are much deeper themes speaking to privilege, emotional and physical abuse, and atonement and forgiveness.

Tragedy strikes in the novel’s prologue as five-year-old Jacob is struck by a speeding car as he’s crossing the street in front of his house, his mother only a few steps behind him. The driver rushes away with only the boy’s traumatized mother as a witness. The narrative then follows the Detective Inspector in charge of the investigation as well as Jenna Gray who is running away from her life and finds a small, seaside Welsh village where she can disappear and start over. The police’s leads quickly dry up and other cases get moved to the top of the pile; it looks like Jacob might fall through the cracks when an anniversary appeal to the public gives them the break they’re looking for and the police arrive on Jenna’s doorstep to arrest her for the hit and run. Moving into the novel’s second half, Jenna’s past is explored and questions begin getting answers—but the answers aren’t easy to stomach. Continue reading

Book Preview – A Man of Genius by Lynn Rosen

man of genius - book coverI’ve always loved a good murder mystery so when I stumbled upon the description for Lynn Rosen’s upcoming A Man of Genius, the combination of promised mystery with the exploration of genius and morality proved tempting. What the description didn’t mention was the unusual narrative framing that provides additional fodder for consideration and analysis.

After the death of renowned architect, Samuel Grafton-Hall, his lawyers struggle to execute an unexpected codicil related to his will, the details of which must be read aloud to his widow, Elizabeth, and she must comply with them if she wishes to keep possession of Upuna Rose and the architectural forum of students and employees who live and work on its premises. Getting Elizabeth to cooperate proves more difficult than one would expect. The codicil pertains to another of Grafton-Hall’s properties, Hesperus’s Walk, where decades before his first wife, Catherine, had perished in an unfortunate fire along with two servant girls. As the novel unfolds, the circumstances of Grafton-Hall’s professional and personal life in the years leading up to that fateful fire are presented—through the biased lens of one of the architect’s longtime lawyers—and the tenuous truth of what happened at Hesperus’s Walk is revealed.

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Book Preview – Tasa’s Song by Linda Kass

tasa's song - book coverAfter reading The Girl from the Train by Irma Joubert, I came across the description for Linda Kass’ upcoming novel, Tasa’s Song and found it intriguing enough to request to preview the book. Like The Girl from the Train, Tasa’s Song takes place in eastern Poland during World War II and involves the impact of the Soviets and communism on the Polish people as the war progresses. Where The Girl from the Train looked at adopted families, Tasa’s Song looks more at the close ties that can develop between members of an extended family; where The Girl from the Train looked at words and language and their connection to one’s spirit and identity, Tasa’s Song looks at those same things through music.

Tasa—short for Anastasia—is from a wealthy and prominent Polish Jewish family in a rural area of Poland. She and her cousin, Danik—with whom she grew up and continues to develop a specifically close relationship to—board in a larger city to attend a private school. Tasa began learning violin from her grandfather and the instrument and music become a key part of how she interacts with the world around her. Moments—particularly of high emotion—become associated with certain pieces of music or movements within larger pieces. Playing those pieces proves to be an integral part of coping with the increasing uncertainties and terrors surrounding her as she, her family, and her friends become stranded between the advancing Nazi forces and the Soviets who took over eastern Poland at the outset of the war.

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Book Preview – Chasing the North Star by Robert Morgan

chasing the north star - book coverRobert Morgan’s upcoming novel, Chasing the North Star is one that I came across during a stretch when my interest in the American Civil War was strong—it never does go away entirely but there are times when that interest is more prominent and I indulge it, and this was one of those times. Not set during the Civil War itself, Chasing the North Star is a novel about two runaway slaves as they make their journeys north to freedom. The way this novel unfolds is actually rather unique among novels in this subgenre.

As a house slave whose tasks centered around serving his master’s children—including during their lessons—Jonah Williams learned how to read and write. These skills, along with his ability to stop and think his way through situations in a clear and organized manner, prove invaluable when Jonah impulsively runs away from the plantation one night. His journey north to freedom is full of surprises and threats but no surprise is as complete as the young slave woman, Angel, whom he first meets incidentally in the woods. She immediately recognizes Jonah as a runaway and decides that she will run away too, following Jonah who clearly has a plan. Since two slaves are always more conspicuous than one, Jonah makes it his mission to abandon Angel when he gets the chance—but she somehow manages to find him again and again and again. Continue reading

Book Preview – Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor

book cover - into the dimDescribed as a young adult Outlander—and being a fan of that series as well as young adult fiction—Janet B. Taylor’s upcoming Into the Dim immediately caught my eye. The first book in what promises to be an interesting time-exploration series aimed at teens, Into the Dim offers explorations of parent/child relationships, the links between cause and effect, and how much say people have in defining themselves.

It’s been eight months since Hope Walton’s mother was presumably killed in an earthquake overseas. Her mother’s sister—whom she’s never met—invites Hope for a visit to the family’s ancestral home in Scotland and promises Hope she will learn more about herself and the mother she still mourns. Hope’s low expectations are turned on their head when she discovers that the family secrets involve an underground cavern where the ley lines of the earth converge to allow time travel. What’s more, Hope’s mother isn’t dead after all, simply marooned in the past by a rival band of time travelers who make a profit off of stealing artifacts regardless of the impact such interference has on history. Hope and two companions are to be sent back to find and bring her mother home safely but before she leaves, Hope encounters a strangely familiar young man who turns out to have an unexpected connection to her.

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Book Preview – Find Her by Lisa Gardner

9780525954576_p0_v2_s192x300I don’t usually begin series in the middle—I’m a firm believer in starting at the beginning. But I was really intrigued by the description for Lisa Gardner’s upcoming Find Her and requested to preview it before I realized it was going to be the eighth book in her Detective D.D. Warren series. It caused me to pause as I started reading—this far into a series there are usually well established arcs carrying over from the previous books and it can leave new readers feeling like they’re missing something. I was relieved to discover this wasn’t the case for Find Her and enjoyed the book enough to go and add the earlier books to my library wish list for later reading.

Detective D.D. Warren is on restricted duty as she returns to work following an injury but despite the physical therapy she still has to complete, she won’t let her restricted status keep her tied down to a desk. She shows up at what is supposed to be a murder scene where the perpetrator is in custody only to discover that the victim may actually have been a sexual predator who’d abducted her perpetrator. Flora Dane, the young woman who killed her attacker, is more than she appears having survived four hundred seventy-two days of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse five years earlier at the hands of a different predator. Evidence suggests the man she killed may have been involved in the disappearances of two or three other women in the last year but he can’t answer D.D.’s questions being dead and she blames Flora Dane. When D.D. goes to speak with Flora Dane again the next day, she finds the young woman’s apartment empty, Flora gone and the number of missing women goes up by one more.

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Book Preview – A Drop in the Ocean by Jenni Ogden

drop in the ocean - book coverEvery once in a while it’s nice to read an easy book—a book where you go in familiar with the tropes, the character types, the checklist of plot points the author will hit along the way so you don’t have to think too hard, you just get effortlessly carried along into the story. These are the beach reads, the books you read on planes and trains while traveling long distances, the ones you read when you’re home sick and bored with daytime television. Jenni Ogden’s upcoming A Drop in the Ocean is one of those feel-good, easy reads.

On Anna Fergusson’s forty-ninth birthday she discovers that the grant she’s been using to pay for her Huntington’s disease research lab has been discontinued. Forced to dismantle her lab and wish her research assistants luck, Anna has some time to consider what she wants to do next but given her age, she isn’t particularly hopeful about her prospects. Her friend, Fran, thinks a change of scenery and distance from the work that’s consumed her adult life so when Fran finds an ad looking for someone to watch over some campgrounds on a remote island off the coast of Australia, she urges Anna to take it. On a whim, Anna does and she discovers that life on the remote and sparsely populated island helps her confront some of the ghosts from her past so that she can finally move forward with new relationships and a new sense of purpose.

As I was reading this book, I kept thinking of the other books and film adaptations of books that fit in this difficult to describe sub-genre—Under the Tuscan Sun, The Divine Secrets of the Ya-ya Sisterhood, Where the Heart Is, and so many more. It’s not a genre I can handle in excessive amounts but once in a while it’s nice to read a book of straightforward self-discovery and re-evaluation of one’s priorities. It’s interesting to see how the same series of tropes can be written and rewritten so many times—the life changing event that starts it all for the protagonist (loss of job, loss of spouse or significant other usually to cheating/divorce/abandonment); the drastic relocation to start fresh; adjusting to a new community and way of life that is eccentric and disjointed but ultimately wonderful and welcoming; there’s almost always a birth and a death to balance each out and occasionally a wedding as well; reconnecting with one’s parents and/or the difficult times in the shared past; friends new and old who find themselves in distress through marital problems and/or illness and the protagonist gets to be there for them; and finally, there’s usually a romance. A Drop in the Ocean checks off most of these as well.

What A Drop in the Ocean does particularly well is weave the scientific threads of the story together. Anna’s experience as both a researcher and one who specialized in Huntington’s disease ties in conveniently to the Australian island’s sea turtle research team, its research efforts, and its members. The descriptions of the Great Barrier Reef and the wildlife of Anna’s Australian island are a perfect contrast to the sterile confines of a research lab and function well in her transcendental journey as she compares the two experiences. Her growth and self-awareness of that growth is part of what make the story straightforward.

For the type of novel it is, A Drop in the Ocean fits the genre well.

A Drop in the Ocean will be available for purchase May 3, 2016.

Book Preview – The Vatican Princess by C. W. Gortner

vatican princess - book coverFollowing my enjoyment of Médicis Daughter and still waiting for the next in Laura Andersen’s Tudor Legacy series to become available, I’d been looking for something else in the fifteenth or sixteenth century royal court, intrigue and drama niche. When I saw that there was an upcoming novelization of the life of Lucrezia Borgia—C. W. Gortner’s The Vatican Princess—I figured that would fit the bill. While it certainly was full of political and personal maneuvering and drama, I realized that it wasn’t quite what I was looking for but not for the reasons I’d expected.

Told from Lucrezia’s first person perspective, The Vatican Princess begins with the conclave during which her father, Rodrigo Borgia, is elected as Pope and becomes Alexander VI. She is only getting ready to turn thirteen at the time of her father’s ascension to the papacy and while she doesn’t get along too well with her mother or her brother, Juan, she is quite close to her oldest brother, Cesare who is vocal about his resentment for the being pushed by their father to join the church. The rivalry between Cesare and Juan is established early and Lucrezia finds herself at the center of it inadvertently, paying a high price for being female in a man’s world. A political pawn expected to marry where and when her father bids, Lucrezia learns just how far her family is willing to go to protect itself and how much being a Borgia means to her.

Now, Lucrezia Borgia is one of those women whom history painted as a femme fatale, manipulative, depraved, and any other unflattering thing that ever has been or could be said about women. In the last few years, maybe even a decade or two, she’s been approached academically and opinions of her have been revised to suggest she was less an active participant in the infamous Borgia plotting and depravity and more a pawn used to solidify alliances and doing as she was bid by the powerful men in her life—the truth likely lies somewhere between an adept puppet-master and completely innocent victim. In Gortner’s novelization, the victim angle is hit a little hard for my taste.

That’s not to say that Lucrezia Borgia wasn’t very much a victim of her father’s and brother’s machinations, but many of the gaps in the historical narrative—primarily details surrounding a possible/probably pregnancy at the time of her annulment from her first husband—are filled in such a way that emphasizes her passivity of Lucrezia, flattening her as a character and, in my opinion, weakening a novel that is supposed to center around her (these changes feel like they were contrived to shock the reader as much as possible and that they serve a story that isn’t really hers and with her as the central character and narrator of the novel, it was a choice I really didn’t care for).

I can’t help drawing comparisons to Médicis Daughter where Marguerite de Valois is in a very similar situation, surrounded by manipulative family with a great deal if not total control over her life. In that novel, despite the mistakes Margot makes when she does trust her family, she isn’t a passive character always sixteen steps behind everyone around her. But in The Vatican Princess, that’s exactly how it feels to be trapped in Lucrezia’s perspective and only so many excuses can be made for her age at the time—in the beginning when she’s thirteen or fourteen, maybe but beyond a certain point it stops being believable, especially for how educated she’s portrayed as being. Despite being ostensibly about Lucrezia Borgia, The Vatican Princess is more an examination of Cesare Borgia as told by Lucrezia.

The Vatican Princess by C. W. Gortner will be available February 9, 2016.

Book Preview – Fallen Land by Taylor Brown

book cover - fallen landI honestly don’t remember what it was about the description for Taylor Brown’s upcoming Fallen Land that caught my attention—there’s a pretty good chance it was the Civil War setting and the mention of Sherman’s march to the sea. As far as historic fiction set during that time period goes, you usually get books where the characters are deeply engrossed in the actions of war—the battles, the army maneuvers, the women and children left behind to cope with occupation, etc. Fallen Land follows characters who manage to remain largely on the outskirts of those kinds of things—they’re obviously still impacted, but the war itself is a backdrop rather than the driving force of the plot.

Callum is a teen who has taken up with the Colonel and his band of Confederate-leaning guerilla fighters who raid where and when they can. When the band stumbles across the house where they find seventeen-year-old Ava alone, she becomes the target of some of Callum’s companions’ violent desires. Callum intervenes to protect her and is nearly killed for his trouble. The first opportunity he gets, he heads back to look for her, stealing the Colonel’s horse to do so and bringing him and his men after him. During an altercation with them at Ava’s house, the Colonel is killed and Callum and Ava decide to head south together since neither of them have anything left where they are. It doesn’t take long for them to learn that the Colonel’s men—along with his slave-hunter brother—aren’t going to let the matter drop and are still on their trail. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Winter Girl by Matt Marinovich

winter girl - book coverWhen I see the phrase “Hitchcockian thriller” I can’t help paying attention—proving it is an effective marketing tool. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily agree that Matt Marinovich’s upcoming The Winter Girl about a man in a stalled marriage who becomes obsessed with the fact that their neighbor’s houselights appear to be on some sort of timer really fits the idea—or at least, my idea—of a “Hitchcockian thriller.”

Scott and his wife, Elise, are spending the winter in her father’s house near Southampton, which is also rather abandoned due to the season. Her father has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and they are “taking care” of his house while they essentially wait for him to die. But every night, Scott notices the lights in the neighbor’s house—they go on every night at the same time and turn off at the same time, rotating from one room to the next in the same eerie order. Bored, Scott decides to investigate one day, peering through the windows. He never sees anyone inside and the place looks abandoned. When he tries the front door, it’s unlocked. Scott soon drags his wife into exploring the house but they find a few things that have them wondering why it’s been abandoned—or if it is abandoned at all. Never a fan of his father-in-law, Scott discovers that there are many secrets to his wife’s past, her father, and the house next door. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Stargazer’s Sister by Carrie Brown

the stargazer's sister - book coverIt’s no secret that women are underrepresented in STEM fields, both currently and historically. You would think that a greater effort would be made to acknowledge and educate the public about those women who have contributed in those fields—and there are some groups who are trying. Novels like Carrie Brown’s upcoming The Stargazer’s Sister will help to further the growing awareness and interest in bringing modern recognition to women who have been historically marginalized—women like astronomer, Caroline Herschel.

From the early days of her life, Caroline “Lina” Herschel was close to her older brother, William. Despite the difficulties of growing up in an overcrowded and underfunded family, Lina took to her brother’s instruction and educational guidance with passion and amazement. Circumstances separating them and her own illnesses strained her relationships with some members of her family, but when William—having settled in England—agreed to bring her over to rescue her from living miserably with her unappreciative and malicious mother, Lina vows to do anything and everything she can to assist William in his life’s work. She shares much of his obsessive nature but is better at remembering things like eating and sleeping, and the working relationship they develop enables William to build increasingly larger telescopes and discover hundreds of new stars, comets, and even a planet (Uranus). But as time goes by, Lina becomes more aware of the dynamics in their relationship and that she wants to be something—someone—more than just her brother’s assistant. Continue reading

Book Preview – Médicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot

medicis daughter - book coverI have long been fascinated by historic fiction centered around the Tudor Court in England. It’s an interesting period in history for so many reasons and the political, religious, and romantic intrigue are legendary. But with so much attention paid to the Tudors it’s easy to forget the cutthroat situations of other royal courts in Europe. When I saw Médicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot as an upcoming release–a novel centered around Marguerite de Valois, the youngest daughter of Catherine de Médicis—I was eager to see how another royal court of the period compared on the page (Catherine de Médicis, her husband, and his mistress also featured in It Ended Badly so with the names fresh in my mind, the premise caught my attention quickly).

Marguerite—Margot—is only about ten years old when she is finally invited to join her mother’s household in her older brother, Charles’ royal court. Initially close to her other older brother, Henri—later the Duc de Anjou—she slowly learns to navigate the flirtations and manipulations of French court, eager to do her duty to her family, her king, and her faith. The French Wars of Religion impact life at court for all but for Margot perhaps most. Though the court and her main companions are all strictly Catholic, there are other factors at play—family loyalties and plays for power and influence. Margot—struggling to build a future that suits herself—finds herself used and abused by her closest family and friends. But as she grows, she learns, and when the time comes Margot can and will take a stand against her mother and the formidable power she wields. Continue reading