Book Review: Historical Fiction

Review: Two for the Dough

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Two for the DoughMy rating: 3 of 5 stars to book #2 in the Stephanie Plum mystery series, Two for the Dough, by Janet Evanovich. Since I’m going back to complete reviews on all the books I’ve read, and there are over 20 in this series, it would be too boring to do a normal review… so I’ll keep it short. A few fun things about this one:

1. We’re still getting to know how crazy Stephanie Plum is compared to everyone else. She’s neurotic in a fun way — sort of like I am.

2. This one is all about her libido with Joe Morelli. What’s more important… getting lucky or catching the criminal? She can’t decide but Evanovich presents many funny romantic situations in this edition.

3. Stephanie’s cousin is hilarious. He’s a creep. And I would not want to meet him in reality. But he provides necessary humor.

4. Not knowing how to properly catch a criminal can really get her in hot water. The situations she finds herself in are just laugh out loud. I don’t know how the writer keeps on coming up with them.

5. We’re learning a bit more about the dangers of Ranger. And I like it! He’s someone you just never know what to expect… it could be good or it could be the good kind of bad.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

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Review: Peony in Love

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Peony in LoveMy rating: 3 of 5 stars to Lisa See‘s Peony in Love, a historical fiction book released in 2007 by Random House set in 17th century China.

Why This Book
I found it sitting on a bookshelf in my condo’s laundry room. I read the jacket description, which sounded like a beautiful tale of love, emotions and a little bit of history. I brought it home with me that afternoon, knowing it would come in handy. And when I finished up a few ARCs, I needed a different kind of book; I saw this on my own shelf, which reminded me it was time to try something a few years old. I picked it up and began reading last week. It took longer than usual, but I’ll explain why later.

Overview of Story
The Peony Pavilion is a play that the character of Peony has read many times. When her father, of some wealth in 17th century China, puts on a showing of the famous play on his estate, 15-year old Peony is excited. But it’s when she sees a boy for the first time, she cannot control her thoughts. Unfortunately, she’s already paired off in an arranged marriage with a boy from another family, as well as the fact that as a girl, she’s not even allowed to be seen with any males other than those in her own family.

The book follows the story line of the play, which seems to be spilling over into Peony’s life. When she begins unknowingly starving herself, Peony dies and enters the afterworld on her own. She’s unprepared to deal with the consequences and is remorseful that she never found love. She soon sees the boy she fell in love with in a dream, learning he was the man her father had arranged in the marriage. She longs for him but cannot have him, as she is dead and he is very much alive.

Soon, her family members begin dying and join her in the afterworld. The boy moves on and gets married. Peony inserts herself to their life from the great beyond, leading to unfortunate circumstances for all involved. As she meanders her journey, Peony learns what is needed for her to move beyond the “waiting place” and into her new existence as no longer alive.

Approach & Style
1. The book is centered around a play within the book which mirrors the main character’s life. At times, it’s a little difficult to tell which is real life and which is the play.

2. The language is very ethereal, flowery and imaginative. This is less about plot and more about the beauty of Chinese beliefs about what women are allowed to do, what happens in death, and how to live one’s life.

Strengths
1. The love story is a strong one. You see and feel the poetry in the words and the relationships.

2. It’s very descriptive of life in a warrior state in 17th century China. I learned a lot of history that I wasn’t privy to beforehand.

3. You see everything thru Peony’s eyes, which helps create a very strong world and point of view.

Open Questions & Concerns
I am shocked at what Chinese women were put thru… between the sacrifices women made for men, the binding of feet and the cultural expectations and limitations. It was very upsetting. I understand these were customs for hundreds of years, with deep-rooted beliefs… some are just awful from today’s standards. Even awful back then.

Author & Other Similar Books
This is the first book about Chinese customs and history that I’ve read. I’m not sure what I could compare it to…. perhaps Memoirs of a Geisha, although it’s a different country and belief system.

Final Thoughts
This was a very tough read. I started it ten days ago and read 20 pages. I tried a few times, but couldn’t get into it. I forced myself to read 150 pages last night and then the remaining 100 today. It got better, but it wasn’t a positive read for me; however, I recognize the beauty in the story, characters, imagery and setting. It’s one of those books where I didn’t like it a lot, but I know it’s a good book.

I wish I had more knowledge of Chinese history and customs. Unfortunately, much of what happens in the book and how it’s described went over my head. I didn’t agree with how people felt or were treated. I didn’t know why there was so much of a belief in ghosts with a vengeance. I couldn’t get into religious and spiritual connections that were unfamiliar. And when I was getting close, I felt angry over how awfully these women were treated.

That said, I believe I would have liked this a lot more if I had a stronger background in the topics. The writing is good. The story is pretty. It’s just a weak connection for me because I was unfamiliar with the core practices, history and belief systems. But for the right reader, it will probably be a good 3 to 4 rated book. For me, it was about a 2.5, and I rounded up to a 3 to be fair.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

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Review: Sepulchre

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Sepulchre4 of 5 stars to Sepulchre by Kate Mosse, the second in the “Languedoc” historical fiction (maybe a little fantasy) series. After I read the first book, I had to follow through on this one. And recently, I learned the third one was published a few years ago. I didn’t know there was another… but I will definitely finish this series. It takes place in the French mountains, how could you not love it?

The story is very complex, but very strong. The characters are memorable. The struggle between the past and the present drives this story. It is historical fiction, for a large part of it, so you have different time periods to focus on. But it’s handled well. Add in some ghosts, a little fantasy, mystery and suspense over the 100 year gap between the two time periods, and you’ve got a good story. You will keep trying to guess all the connections and be happy when you find out.

You should read at least the first two… and I’ll let you know whether the last one is important or not, once I read it! The connection between the first two books is surprising, so I am curious how the third one fits in.

It crosses a few genres without being too explicit in any specific one. For me, it’s the characters and the plot which kept me focused. I’d recommend taking a chance on it, but look at other reviews. Some folks didn’t care for it, finding it a bit messy and unfocused. Not me tho! And to them, I say:

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

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Review: The Rose Labyrinth

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The Rose Labyrinth3+ of 5 stars to Titania Hardie‘s novel, The Rose Labyrinth. Few have heard of the author or this book, but when I stumbled upon it in the book store, I had to give it a chance for a few reasons:

1. It was a book within a book. It’s a normal hardcover book, but in the front cover, there is a second book, a journal of sorts. In the real book, the main character uses a journal and a puzzle to decode the secrets from 400 years ago. And as readers, we get a copy of this journal, so along the way, we can try to figure it out, too. It sounds like a great concept, perhaps a bit of a gimmick. I didn’t find it particularly useful, and it probably caused too much of an increase in production costs.

2. It told the story both in current time and in the historical Elizabethan period. I love those types of mysteries, where we learn, as the character learns, how they fit into this whole puzzle.

3. I’d been itching to try a little bit of a romance book, just to see if I would find it at all interesting. And in this one, the main character’s story is about her own health issues and her subsequent falling in love with another. Eh… a few plot issues and mechanical (?) issues given she had surgery and well… didn’t seem like it would all work out that quickly. But who am I to judge?

4. I love the author’s name. I will check out another of her books to see how those compare. But I’m not in any rush.

Overall, I liked the book; however, it didn’t live up to my hope given the notes above. I imagine it is only in print, given the journal that comes with it, but that might be something to look into, if you’re interested.

I think the story is good, but there are other comparable stories. It’s a cross between Kate Morton and Dan Brown. But it isn’t as good as either of them, so… just do some review reading before you decide to take this one on. It may or may not be a fit.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

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Review: The Help

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The Help
The Help by Kathryn Stockett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book at least 4 years ago, before I began to more consistently use Goodreads… and now I’m going back to ensure I have some level of a review for everything I read. It’s only fair… if the author took the time to write it, and I found a few hours to read it… I should share my views so others can decide if it’s a good book for them.

That said… did anyone not love or like this book? I’ll have to check out some other people’s reviews… And I wonder how many people just watched the movie… Oh well… I’ll keep this review short and not in my usual format, as probably everyone I’m friends with on here has already read it! 🙂

The only reason I’m not giving it a 5 is because I felt like some of the stories needed a better or stronger ending. I truly think it is a fantastic book, and it makes you really think about what happened in the not-so-distant past… and probably still happening in some parts of the country today. Scary thoughts, but in the end, at least the right people got something back they deserved, even if it wasn’t as much as it should have been.

The characters are very clear and strong. And when there are upwards of 10 to 12 supporting or lead female characters, an author has to spend a tremendous amount of time creating distinct pictures in a readers mind. Stockett did a great job with this task. Each and every one shows you a different personality: leaders and followers, movers and shakers, smart and silly, strong and weak, tolerant and intolerant, thirsty for all the world has to offer and content to stay the same for an entire lifetime.

When a writer can shuffle this many people throughout a story, they have invested themselves into the book, the characters, the setting, the theme, the future.

I haven’t read anything else by this author, but just thinking about this book, and realizing I haven’t looked at her other works makes me want to run to her profile now and pick one. Perhaps that’s what I’ll go do!



About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by.

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Review: Nick and Jake: An Epistolary Novel

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Nick and Jake: An Epistolary NovelMy rating: 3 of 5 stars to Jonathan Richards‘s book, Nick and Jake: An Epistolary Novel, published in 2012. I’m not ashamed to admit it, but I had to look up the word “epistolary,” as I had no clue what it meant. Usually I’m good at determining the meaning of a word by breaking it up into smaller words, using my etymological skills; I am either getting old or I just had brain freeze; it shouldn’t have been that hard since it’s Latin and French. Epistolary means “written in the form of letters,” which is exactly how this novel was created.

Why This Book
All hail NetGalley! I liked the cover. I enjoyed the overview. It seemed like something different, once I knew the definition of the word epistolary. It became #9 on my NetGalley reads this year. For those unfamiliar, go check it out at https://netgalley.com, a site where publishers and authors provide an opportunity to win free books in exchange for honest reviews. Family was visiting for the Easter holiday and had just left, so I opened this book on my iPad Kindle Reader and finished it in about 2 hours, as it’s only about 200 pages.

Overview of Story
Nick and Jake work in the newspaper business in the 1950s, but they’ve never met at the beginning of the story. It’s a few years after World War II, where McCarthy’s fear of the Reds and Communism has taken over the country. The head of the CIA and other operatives are working across the world to track down any Communist supporters and arrest them, but if you even said something nice about Russia, or once passed someone on the street who was a Red supporter, you’d be accused yourself. Nick’s accused himself, but gets out of it and leaves for Paris, having nothing but ill-feelings towards the US government despite his love for the US itself. Jake’s already moved to Europe and publishing a newspaper, but they develop a friendship through their columns and words, supporting one another through various personal crises. Nick even gets divorced and re-married during the course of the story. The book is full of other characters, all who seem to be playing each other on different sides in the Red War. You can never quite tell who is being honest and who is a secret agent. But over the course of a few months, a few “stings” are executed to catch the criminals, ending with a bit of freedom and a small surprise or two.

Approach & Style
1. For starters, the book is written in the form of newspaper articles, telegrams and letters. Of the 10 major characters, they lives in the US, Europe and Asia, staying at houses, hotels and with friends. You get to see various post styles and handwriting samples, trying to figure out who is connected to who throughout each section.

2. The book is full of made-up and real characters… from fictional people in novels like the Great Gatsby to Senator McCarthy and George Bush. It includes Christine Jorgensen, the first person to have a sex-change (man to woman) and various family members of the primary characters who could be gay or are playing gay, including Maurice Chevalier. It’s quite an unusual cast.

3. Humor and satire can be your friends.

Strengths
This is a highly imaginative story, full of facts and fiction. As a reader, if you are familiar with all the books being used as fan fiction, and you know a lot of about the real people involved in Senator McCarthy’s war, you will love this book. It’s very clever and instantly transports you back to the fear-mongering of the 50’s. I am not familiar with the depth from this time period, but reading the transcripts of one “trial,” if that actually happened (the way people were questioned), I’m super ashamed for the US for that behavior. I have a feeling this was not an exaggeration, too.

The writing style is quick and easy, full of different handwriting styles, formats and voices. It’s a fun and quick read, as you maneuver your way through each of the sections to try and figure out who is good and who is bad. The friendship between Nick and Jake is a really strong basis, especially when you realize it was the 50s and one or two of them might be playing the other!


Open Questions & Concerns
1. What was with the obsession with the male body part in this book? I understand the sex-change story-line as that is an important piece of history, but Nick’s obsession with his own member… Jake’s curiosities about surgery, the way it became common conversation in letters… I thought I was reading an entirely different book at a few points.

2. Some of the characters and history were lost on me, as I’m not too familiar with McCarthy other than the basics of the communist war. I also didn’t read all the books being noted in this novel, so I feel like I missed out on some of the clever writing. That’s my fault, not the books… though I think the description and overview could have been more clear, so I knew going into it what I was getting myself into.

Final Thoughts
I wasn’t too keen on the novel when I first started it, but by about 15 minutes in, the quirky and clever writing made it a much easier read. It’s sharp and has good focus. I suspect had I more historical info on what had actually happened, this might have been a 4 out of 5 stars. So if you do, then you should read it. If you don’t… or the discussion of the male body part doesn’t appeal to you (I feel so peculiar putting that in a book review that’s not an erotic or romance book…), then perhaps this isn’t for you. But be warned… it’s an odd one… funny… not dirty at all… just a bit different.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by.

View all my reviews

Review: The Distant Hours

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The Distant HoursMy rating: 4 of 5 stars to Kate Morton‘s The Distant Hours, a beautifully written and compelling story of sisters, mothers and daughters across two different time periods set in London and rural England.



Why This Book?
I’d read one of her other books, The Forgotten Garden, and fell in love with Kate Morton‘s style, effortless reads and vivid settings and characters. I had to continue absorbing as much of her books as I could, but given they are usually 500+ pages, and quite intense, I have to layer them in every few months. I happened to arrive in my building’s laundry room a few minutes early and perused the library’s bookshelves while waiting for the dryer to complete its cycle. Low an’ behold, there she stood.

Some kind soul had dropped off this book and it beckoned me to depart quickly with it. Well… as soon as I finished getting all my clothes out of the dryer. It sat on my living room’s bookshelves for a few weeks, until I’d seen a review of it this week and decided to move it up on my TBR list. SO GLAD I DID!

Overview of Story
Edie Burchill, a thirty year old book lover working in the publishing industry, recently split from her live-in boyfriend, is visiting her parents one weekend when a letter arrives in the mail, postmarked nearly 50 years ago. Edie’s mother, Meredith, tells her very little, only that it came from one of the Blythe sisters who live at Milderhurst Castle where Meredith stayed as an evacuee during WWII’s German Blitz. Though Edie and her mother aren’t very close, she knows Meredith hasn’t told her the entire story. And when Edie finds herself driving near the castle, and an opportunity to take a tour arises, she jumps on it. Inside Edie meets 85ish twins, Saffy and Percy, who care for their much younger sister, Juniper who is in her early 70s. All is not well with Juniper, who thinks Edie is actually Meredith from nearly 50 years ago. Edie visits local historians, presses her mother’s family and becomes closer to the twin sisters, in hopes she’ll discover what hides behind her mother’s wistful eyes. And as she falls deeper in the story, she learns of a broken engagement, a missing fiancee, a long-lost love, a crazy author, an affair and a few mysterious deaths. Not to mention the mystery of the “mud man” who the sisters’ father, Raymond Blythe, wrote a famous fiction (or was it?) story nearly 70 years before.

Approach & Style
The book alternates time periods every few chapters, showing what happened in 1939-1941 and what is happening currently in the 1990s. Chapters take on different points of view and focus from all of the core characters: Raymond Blythe. His 3 daughters, Saffy, Percy and Juniper. Edie spends time with her parents and her mother’s sister Rita. Mr. Cavill, the missing fiancee, has his own stories and connections, and his family is still looking for him in current time. The stories and characters unfold chapter by chapter, leading readers to discover all the covert relationships and actions that have occurred to bring everything to current times.

Strengths
Kate Morton is quickly becoming my favorite author. Her writing style, though a little exaggerated and too lyrical at times, is astoundingly beautiful. You will always picture the setting, the views and the backdrops. Her choice of words ranges from intoxicating to phenomenal. And her ability to stop the story at just the right moment before switching to a different character or point of view is dazzling. And sometimes, it’s not even a cliffhanger or point of suspense; it’s a mere change to give you a chance to breathe and let your imagination run free for a bit.

The plot is intricate, realistic and intense. You question with each chapter the motivation of the good people and the sentiment of the bad people. You wonder why they make the decision they make, only to find out later, you should never second guess it. I can imagine Morton writes very detailed outlines over several months, determining when to drop certain hints, and when to hold back for a complete and utter shock. She’s clearly writing in a forum and a genre that is well-suited to her strengths.

Open Questions & Concerns
At times, the story is a little too unclear. In 90% of the cases, it works to your advantage as your suspense and thrill increases; however, every so often, it goes a little too far, unravels more than it needs to and opens itself up to a few too many questions that don’t fully find resolution. In particular, with the ending of this one, I wasn’t sure of a connection to make with the delay that happens on the bus (no spoilers here!)… that said, it’s easily forgiven, but this reader wanted it a little more tidied up.

Empathy for the character of Juniper should have been a stronger theme. Readers will feel attached to her, but when you discover what truly happened to her in the end, and how it seems so much could have been prevented, you wonder whether she was just there to suffer. A tweak here and there might have made this a little more acceptable, but then again, reality doesn’t always work that way either. People have a misguided notion they are doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.

Final Thoughts
If you love flowery language, tremendous detail and an ethereal quality in a story, you must read Morton’s books. And this one in particular shows the push/pull between siblings and parents and children, all the things you never know even though you live together for so many years. We are all different people and despite sharing so much in common, our relationships are unique. This books shows us how to question why a sister can control another, how a mother can choose not to truly love her child… and how a man could go crazy over losing so much in a lifetime.

Go into this one expecting a long and intense journey, and you will be pleased. Go into this hoping for a thrilling ride of great leaps and shocks, you will be disappointed. This is not about how dastardly someone has behaved; this is about how people disappoint one another when they least expect to.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures.

Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by.

View all my reviews