Review: Beatrice and Benedick

23848558Title: Beatrice and Benedick

Author: Marina Fiorato

Rating:  ★★★★

Provided Synopsis: When nineteen-year-old Beatrice is brought to live at her uncle’s court in Sicily to be a companion to his daughter, she first meets Benedick, a young soldier who is there with a Spanish lord on a month-long sojourn. As they begin to wage their war of wit, their words mask their deep love for one another. But the pair are cruelly parted by misunderstanding and slander. Heartbroken, Benedick sails to England on the ill-fated Spanish Armada. Beatrice returns to her home in the North and an unwanted betrothal. While Benedick must fight for his life on board ship, Beatrice fights for her freedom from an arranged marriage.

From the point of view of Beatrice and Benedick we hear the lovers tell their own story, taking us from the sunlit southern courts of Sicily, to the crippled Armada on the frozen northern seas, to the gorgeous Renaissance cities of the north.

Review: With no disrespect meant to Claudio and Hero, when most people think of the play Much Ado About Nothing they think about the lovers Beatrice and Benedick. Through their quips to one another it can easily be read that there is a history to these two, and Marina Fiorato uses her imagination to describe just what that story might be. Do not think of this as only a retelling, however, for this incredibly well written book also features significant moments in 16th Century history while simultaneously weaving in the story of the bard, Shakespeare.

Beatrice and Benedick meet for the first time at the Sicilian home of her cousin, Hero, for a month’s celebration of the Ascension. Drawn together and torn apart by each other’s tongues, the two go on to engage in a game ever searching for the truth of feelings while also struggling over who is to be the victor. I had not read the play in a long time, but I was able to easily imagine this as how things could have been between these characters, particularly because I think Fiorato was able to get the characterizations correct. I felt for both of them; and when a misunderstanding forced them apart, I was convinced my interest in the book would wane. After all, I wanted to read about these two — together.

But Fiorato goes on to do an interesting thing: she shifts Benedick to Spain, where he becomes swept up in the Spanish Armada. I have not read much about the Armada, and found myself riveted with the details of the preparations, the hubris, and the destruction. Beatrice, meanwhile, must return home to Verona, where she continues to grow as a woman who sees herself in her own right. Here, another play of Shakespeare comes into play as well, which really goes on to make the reader think of how all of these stories could be connected if the theory used by the author is correct. Like I said before, do not only think of this as a retelling because there is some rich history and theory presented here.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend this story, especially if you are a fan of historical fiction, or an admirer of the bard’s plays. I had not read Much Ado in some time, and that did not negatively affect my experience with this if that is a concern to you. The references to the play are, of course, present, though this book works just as well as a story of love.


Review: Along the Infinite Sea

24875387Title: Along the Infinite Sea

Author: Beatriz Williams

Rating: ★★★

Provided Synopsis: Each of the three Schuyler sisters has her own world-class problems, but in the autumn of 1966, Pepper Schuyler’s problems are in a class of their own. When Pepper fixes up a beautiful and rare vintage Mercedes and sells it at auction, she thinks she’s finally found a way to take care of herself and the baby she carries, the result of an affair with a married, legendary politician.

But the car’s new owner turns out to have secrets of her own, and as the glamorous and mysterious Annabelle Dommerich takes pregnant Pepper under her wing, the startling provenance of this car comes to light: a Nazi husband, a Jewish lover, a flight from Europe, and a love so profound it transcends decades. As the many threads of Annabelle’s life from World War II stretch out to entangle Pepper in 1960s America, and the father of her unborn baby tracks her down to a remote town in coastal Georgia, the two women must come together to face down the shadows of their complicated pasts.

Review: After successive novels by Beatriz Williams that did not appeal to my tastes, I was wary and hopeful at the same time. The former because I did not want to be disappointed and not finish another of her stories; hopeful because I find Pepper to be the least nauseating of the Schuyler sisters and because the cover was gorgeous. The synopsis also appealed to my interest in historical fiction, as Pepper becomes acquainted with a woman who buys Pepper’s car due to the role it played in her escape from Germany in the year 1938.

Along the Infinite Sea follows the life of Annabelle, beginning as she meets a man named Stefan along the coast of France and falls in love with him. Circumstances of their own making and of outside forces go on to bring them together and pull them apart during this three-year time span, and the answers revealed at the end of Annabelle’s story color the action of the narration being told from Pepper’s perspective in 1966.

Unlike the model she used in the books I did not like, Williams focused this story nearly entirely on the love affair of the past. And that is why I enjoyed this book — the lives of those from the past have always been the most interesting for me to read about in Williams’ novels. Rather than drownAlong the Infinite Sea with too much drama in Pepper’s life, or a rapidly moving insta-love trope, she delved more into the historical fiction to share a story that held my interest. If you, like me, have had issues with this author’s books in the past because of the issues mentioned, then I can see this one holding more appeal with you.

ARC Review: Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante

Title: Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante (Maggie Hope Mystery #5) 25191538

Author: Susan Elia MacNeal

Rating: ★★

Provided Synopsis: In this latest riveting mystery from New York Times bestselling author Susan Elia MacNeal, England’s most daring spy, Maggie Hope, travels across the pond to America, where a looming scandal poses a grave threat to the White House and the Allied cause.

December 1941. Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Winston Churchill arrives in Washington, D.C., along with special agent Maggie Hope. Posing as his typist, she is accompanying the prime minister as he meets with President Roosevelt to negotiate the United States’ entry into World War II. When one of the First Lady’s aides is mysteriously murdered, Maggie is quickly drawn into Mrs. Roosevelt’s inner circle—as ER herself is implicated in the crime. Maggie knows she must keep the investigation quiet, so she employs her unparalleled skills at code breaking and espionage to figure out who would target Mrs. Roosevelt, and why. What Maggie uncovers is a shocking conspiracy that could jeopardize American support for the war and leave the fate of the world hanging dangerously in the balance.

Review: After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States has finally joined the war effort. In the entourage of Churchill, Maggie returns to America, where she comes to work closely with Mrs. Roosevelt after the mysterious death of the First Lady’s secretary.

I had high hopes for this book since it was to reunite Maggie with Churchill, David and John. But as with its predecessor, there was too much story rather than a centralized focus upon Maggie. Within the story were the days leading up to the scheduled execution of Wendell Cotton, the German’s rocket building effort, the building relationship between Churchill and Roosevelt, and a look into Hollywood commissioned propaganda. But where did all of these other stories leave Maggie?

She, once again, was left with a mystery more suited for a novella. Those responsible for the death and their motivations were explicitly stated very early on, therefore there was no suspense here. In truth, this book is best suited for those interested in minute — as well as often thrown in — details of the White House’s rooms and furnishings during this time.

The end of the story sets up the possibility of the next story being of more interest, since it claims Maggie will receive another mission, but I have begun to grow wary. Every book ends with the promise of more that is never delivered on. Let us get back to Maggie actually working as a spy, as she did in Berlin.

(I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The expected publication date is October 27, 2015.)

Review: The Seven Sisters

22609358Title: The Seven Sisters (The Seven Sisters #1)

Author: Lucinda Riley

Rating: ★★

Provided Synopsis: Maia D’Apliese and her five sisters gather together at their childhood home, “Atlantis”—a fabulous, secluded castle situated on the shores of Lake Geneva—having been told that their beloved father, who adopted them all as babies, has died. Each of them is handed a tantalizing clue to her true heritage—a clue which takes Maia across the world to a crumbling mansion in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Once there, she begins to put together the pieces of her story and its beginnings.

Eighty years earlier in Rio’s Belle Epoque of the 1920s, Izabela Bonifacio’s father has aspirations for his daughter to marry into the aristocracy. Meanwhile, architect Heitor da Silva Costa is devising plans for an enormous statue, to be called Christ the Redeemer, and will soon travel to Paris to find the right sculptor to complete his vision. Izabela—passionate and longing to see the world—convinces her father to allow her to accompany him and his family to Europe before she is married. There, at Paul Landowski’s studio and in the heady, vibrant cafes of Montparnasse, she meets ambitious young sculptor Laurent Brouilly, and knows at once that her life will never be the same again.

Review: After the sudden death of her adoptive father, Maia is provided clues should she decide to look into her past to discover where she came from. Thus, the story takes us to Brazil during the late 1920s at the time of the building of Christ the Redeemer and the life of the young woman who lives in the shadow of the mountain. Izabela is a beauty, and her father, to secure her a good match in order to raise the status of their immigrant family, uses her outer appearance to his advantage. A trip to Paris before her wedding changes Izabela, however, as she meets a young sculptor and the two fall in love. As their story unfolds Maia comes to learn more about who she is and how she must change in the future in order to live her own life.

Romance plays a large role in this story, but I unfortunately found the romances of the past and the present to be weak. Izabela and Laurent told me they were in love, rather than allow me to feel much of anything; Maia and Floriano had the most stilted conversations that I never saw what made him appeal to her at all. The love story of the past was also something that I had read numerous times before.

The Seven Sisters serves as the first of what is to be a series about Maia and her five other sisters (yes, there is mysteriously only six of them), who were all adopted by a rich man they come to realize they knew nothing about. He has named each one of them after The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades, and the mystery surrounding him and why he adopted all of these girls is intriguing enough for me to lament how it was barely touched upon in Maia’s tale. If the next book in the series was to allow the next sister, who I presume will be Ally, to discover her past in a much more compact storyline (because this book did tend to drag) and focus more upon the mystery of Pa Salt then I will give it a shot. Otherwise, I can only recommend The Seven Sisters to those who truly love the author, want to visit Brazil in a story, or who are okay with romances that felt cookie-cutter

Review: Black Dove, White Raven

Black Dove, White Raven

Author: Elizabeth Wein

Rating: ★★★

Provided Synopsis: A new historical thriller masterpiece from New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Elizabeth Wein.

Emilia and Teo’s lives changed in a fiery, terrifying instant when a bird strike brought down the plane their stunt pilot mothers were flying. Teo’s mother died immediately, but Em’s survived, determined to raise Teo according to his late mother’s wishes-in a place where he won’t be discriminated against because of the color of his skin. But in 1930s America, a white woman raising a black adoptive son alongside a white daughter is too often seen as a threat.

Seeking a home where her children won’t be held back by ethnicity or gender, Rhoda brings Em and Teo to Ethiopia, and all three fall in love with the beautiful, peaceful country. But that peace is shattered by the threat of war with Italy, and teenage Em and Teo are drawn into the conflict. Will their devotion to their country, its culture and people, and each other be their downfall or their salvation?

In the tradition of her award-winning and bestselling Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein brings us another thrilling and deeply affecting novel that explores the bonds of friendship, the resilience of young pilots, and the strength of the human spirit.

Review: Historical? Yes. Thriller? Not so much.

With its historical setting in Ethiopia during the conflict with the Italians before the official onset of World War II, Black Dove, White Raven had high and low points as a novel of historical fiction in accordance with my demands. By this I mean that I am the type of reader who enjoys this genre because it either expands upon the knowledge I already have, or it teaches me something entirely new. I have read plenty of stories about WWII, but none of them had ever made me aware of a war between Mussolini’s Italians and the Ethiopians. To be honest, I do not believe that I have ever read a book set in Ethiopia at all. For this reason, I felt this book could hit very high points when it delved into the way of life in Ethiopia and the issue of slavery. These were the moments when I really reached out to the story.

Why this book is advertised as a thriller, however is a mystery to me. The tension never felt high enough, even when in the face of warfare. To learn about a war in this region interested me, yet I could never feel as invested within the fighting because the book only flittered around the edge towards the end of the story. If you have read Elizabeth Wein’s previous work, Code Name Verity, then you might be as disappointed with this removal from action as I was. I know you should never go into a book expecting it to be the same as works already published, but in this case I found it to be difficult to make the separation. I wanted to experience the tension as told through the writings of the main characters, because it is through that tension that I am better able to immerse myself within the story and make a connection those involved. Em and Teo were good characters, but they definitely told the story more than they drew me into it. Something was missing.

Review: Voyager

Voyager (Outlander #3)

Author: Diana Gabaldon

Rating: ★★★1/2

Provided Synopsis: Their passionate encounter 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.

Then Claire discovers that Jamie survived. Torn between returning to him and staying with their daughter in her own era, Claire must choose her destiny. And as time and space come full circle, she must find the courage to face the passion and pain awaiting her…the deadly intrigues raging in a divided Scotland… and the daring voyage into the dark unknown that can reunite or forever doom her timeless love.

Review: There is very little I can touch upon when it comes to the summary of Voyager’s plot, since to do so would spoil its predecessor and the crux of the initial conflict within. So instead I will simply talk about what made this book work from my perspective, and what did not.

As always, Diana Gabaldon’s story is lengthy, descriptive, and filled to the brim with research undertaken to place her characters within a climate authentic to the time they live in. Sometimes, this dedication to details works in her favor; at other times, it can cause the book to drag and lose the interest of its readers. This problem was most evident upon a sea voyage Jamie and Claire must embark upon — it reached a point where I was desperate for something to happen other than to be on a boat.

But when plot comes to the forefront of the story, I would consider these books to be impossible to put down. In a departure from the previous books in the series, Voyager has sections told from the perspective of Jamie. His is a life often sacrificed for the benefit of those he loves; while I want more for him than to be continuously tortured, I also can not say that I am not taken in by the misery he faces along with the consequences created by the choices he feels he must make.

The end of this installment to the series presented a huge pay-off to those who struggled through the sea voyage. Once land is reached, so too is the accumulation of all the people, events, and choices Jamie and Claire have faced thus far. The plot twists were unexpected. The possibilities opened for the continuation of the series intrigue me.

Review: The Counterfeit Heiress

Oct 14 Tasha AlexanderTitle: The Counterfeit Heiress (Lady Emily #9)

Author: Tasha Alexander

Rating: ★★★

Provided Synopsis: After an odd encounter at a grand masquerade ball, Lady Emily becomes embroiled in the murder investigation of one of the guests, a sometime actress trying to pass herself off as the mysterious heiress and world traveler Estella Lamar. Each small discovery, however, leads to more questions. Was the intended victim Miss Lamar or the imposter? And who would want either of them dead?

As Emily and Colin try to make sense of all this, a larger puzzle begins to emerge: No one has actually seen Estella Lamar in years, since her only contact has been through letters and the occasional blurry news photograph. Is she even alive? Emily and Colin’s investigation of this double mystery takes them from London to Paris, where, along with their friend Cécile, they must scour the darkest corners of the city in search of the truth.

Review: Upon the unmasking of an imposter and the subsequent demise of the woman at a masquerade ball, Lady Emily and her husband are contracted by the crown to solve the murder. Amongst their detective crew is Emily’s constant suitor, Jeremy, and most importantly, Emily’s Parisian friend, Cecile, who was also close to the real Estella Lamar. Clues soon take the group from England to Paris, and the mystery evolves to become less about who murdered the imposter in favor of what might have happened to Estella Lamar.

Is she alive? Is she held captive in exchange for her fortune? Or, could all be well after all?

At the beginning, I was incredibly invested in this story due to the way each chapter would alternate from the voice of Emily to the story of Estella’s life. This structure built suspense, as the reader must speculate what happened to the heiress as Emily and company discover clues that are increasingly suspicious. I leave this book not overly impressed with the resolution of the mystery, but very intrigued about the dissolution of a person’s mind and with the desire for the book to have delved deeper into that area; I can say that I am both amazed, horrified, and put-off with what I have read.

In conclusion, I would consider this to be vast improvement to the Lady Emily series when compared to its predecessor book, which I found to be a huge disappointment. Things have not yet reached the high form this series had in the beginning, but I am left with hope after reading this book for further improvement. Besides, it was enjoyable to be on the case again with such familiar characters.