Review: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers.

Published April 3, 2012.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Source: Won.

Goodreads Blurb:
Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

My Review:

This novel got off to a quick start and kept my attention from then right through to the end. I loved the idea of assassin nuns and was really pleased with how it played out. There was intrigue and excitement, I had questions and suspicions, and by the end, I really liked the characters. I will say that I wished there had been a little more action over some of the political scheming and trouble, but I still enjoyed that part.

For the most part, I enjoyed Ismae. I liked that she was strong and determined to prove herself when given a chance in life. I also really liked that she grew throughout the novel, especially to question her previously blind faith so she could see what was truly going on around her. I will say that I didn't like her much when she had her moments of harshness, but I do understand why she was written that way because it fits well with her story. I have to mention as well that I, like Ismae, took an immediate liking to Beast. He was such a lovable character who made me smile during what was overall a pretty serious book.

I also really enjoyed how the relationship worked between her and Gavriel. The introduction to his character was fantastic and unexpected for me. It provided a great start point and even though I could tell there was going to be romance there, it made me very curious as to how it was going to come about. The build up of their relationship was perfect for their situation. It fit with how they were interacting and under their circumstances and so I was definitely invested in them as a couple because I saw the growth. I love seeing the relationship develop, so that was great.

In all, it was an enjoyable novel with different aspects that each contributed to a pretty kick-butt assassin story with a great relationship and a lot of political turmoil at its center.
4 stars.


Review: The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni

The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni.

To be published: May 14, 2013.
Published by: Clarion Books.
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you, Clarion!

Goodreads Blurb:
17-year-old Verity Boone expects a warm homecoming when she returns to Catawissa, Pennsylvania, in 1867, pledged to marry a man she has never met. Instead, she finds a father she barely knows and a future husband with whom she apparently has nothing in common. One truly horrifying surprise awaits her: the graves of her mother and aunt are enclosed in iron cages outside the local cemetery. Nobody in town will explain why, but Verity hears rumors of buried treasure and witchcraft. Perhaps the cages were built to keep grave robbers out . . . or to keep the women in. Determined to understand, Verity finds  herself in a life-and-death struggle with people she trusted.

Inspired by a pair of real caged graves in present-day Catawissa, this historical YA novel weaves mystery, romance, and action into a suspenseful drama with human greed and passion at its core.

My Review:

Wow. This was a unique and enthralling novel if I've ever read one. There is so much to say about this novel that I can't possibly fit it all into this review, or even, necessarily, into words. I was actually taken aback by how much I truly enjoyed it.

One of the most captivating aspects of THE CAGED GRAVES is the atmosphere. There is something very unsettling about the graves from the first mention of them and Verity's mother, and this unsettling feeling is only amplified by the various reactions by everyone whenever they are brought up. This was not a fast-paced, plot driven novel, though it absolutely had its exciting scenes, but I really enjoyed how that allowed the setting and the atmosphere to take over, as well as putting character relationships center stage.

I absolutely loved the way the relationships overall were dealt with, but I want to touch specifically on a few. First, Verity almost expects her meeting with Nate, her betrothed, to bring love at first sight, as their only contact since Verity had moved away from Catawissa as a child was in the last year through romantic and endearing letters. It was interesting seeing a trope so commonly complained about in YA like "insta-love" turned right on its head, with the main character expecting it and it not turning out that way at all. The depth of the relationship that develops between them is genuine in its uncertainty and its rockiness, which made them a lovable couple even when they fought.

Another well-hated trope, the love triangle, is used exactly as it should be in this novel. When Verity feels distanced from Nate, she finds herself falling for Jones, an apprentice to the local doctor and completely unforgiving in his feelings for Verity, an engaged woman. The reason this was done so well is in the way Verity struggles not only to determine who she has true feelings for and who she simply enjoys flirting with, but also with the entire concept of love, which, at 17, is possibly the most realistic and honest way she could feel. Of all the relationships, though, Verity's awkward one with her father was probably the most touching. He has to adjust to having a teenage daughter thrust into his life after not having lived with her since she was a toddler. He clearly has no idea what to do with her, nor she with him, but the way they grow on and begin to understand each other is really heart-warming in its small but significant moments.

While the plot of the novel was not, as I mentioned above, fast-moving, because of the significant focus on characters and atmosphere, it was certainly not boring or underdeveloped. The mystery surrounding the graves, Verity's mother, and the circumstances of her death, along with the ongoing strange occurrences in Catawissa make for an extremely intriguing plot with a surprising conclusion (in more ways than one)!
I thought this was a really wonderful novel, in all., where each element mixed with the others perfectly to create a story I could not mentally pull myself away from.
5 stars!


Review: A Bloom in Winter by T.J. Brown

A Bloom in Winter by T.J. Brown.

Series: Summerset Abbey #2.
Published: March 5, 2013.
Published by: Gallery Books.
Source: Provided by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you, T.J!

Goodreads Blurb:
The highly anticipated second installment in the Summerset Abbey series, which picks up just after the climatic conclusion of book one. After Prudence’s desperate marriage and move to Devonshire, sisters Rowena and Victoria fear they have lost their beloved friend forever. Guilt-ridden and remorseful, Rowena seeks comfort from a daring flyboy and embraces the most dangerous activity the world has ever seen, and Victoria defies her family and her illness to make her own dream occupation as a botanist come true. As England and the world step closer to conflict, the two young women flout their family, their upbringing, and their heritage to seize a modern future of their own making.

My Review:

I really enjoyed the first novel in the series, Summerset Abbey (My Review), so I was excited to see what the second installment brought. I am delighted to say that I didn't feel like this suffered from the dreaded second-book slump at all!

One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was the character growth that occurred. In Summerset Abbey, I had my frustrations with Rowena and in a way I was glad to see that these weren't unfounded as they carried over well to this novel. She was a bit dim, probably for the purpose of plot, and her actions continued to bother me at times but I actually appreciated it because it gave her room for growth through this novel. I was so glad to see that she learned to really question herself instead of simply feeling bad for herself. I was also glad she questioned her feelings for Jonathan and the difference between attraction and love, because so many young women don't.

I also really enjoyed the way Victoria's storyline developed in this novel. It was so enjoyable to see her become bolder and stronger, even if she was still largely disillusioned. I think she finally took charge of her own life, which was so great to see. I also think it was a realistic, if somewhat jarring view of how a mistake can really change your life. It was also fun for me to get Kit's perspective in this one because he has such a different view of Victoria than was shared before. It also brought more to his character and really fleshed out the relationship they shared. As for Prudence, I found it really interesting to see her struggle to adapt to her new role as wife and working class homemaker, which she was never prepared for under the Buxton roof. Her romantic conflict was done well, and I think having each girl go through something different but having each situation be so tough was very fitting for their class situations where love is not really the deciding factor.

Overall I was impressed with the way the characters and their respective situations developed and became more distinct in this novel. The increased importance to the story of some of the side characters really brought in a fresh perk and the way the action picked up was exciting. No disappointing middle novel for this trilogy!
4 stars.


Review: Nobody's Secret by Michaela MacColl

Nobody's Secret by Michaela MacColl.

To be published: April 30, 2013.
Published by: Chronicle Books.
Source: Received in exchange for a fair and honest review from Raincoast Books. Thank you!

Goodreads Blurb:
One day, fifteen-year-old Emily Dickinson meets a mysterious, handsome young man. Surprisingly, he doesn't seem to know who she or her family is. And even more surprisingly, he playfully refuses to divulge his name. Emily enjoys her secret flirtation with Mr. "Nobody" until he turns up dead in her family's pond. She's stricken with guilt. Only Emily can discover who this enigmatic stranger was before he's condemned to be buried in an anonymous grave. Her investigation takes her deep into town secrets, blossoming romance, and deadly danger. Exquisitely written and meticulously researched, this novel celebrates Emily Dickinson's intellect and spunk in a page-turner of a book that will excite fans of mystery, romance, and poetry alike.

My Review:
When I saw this one I was immediately interested. "A novel of intrigue and romance", says the cover; with a young Emily Dickinson and a murder mystery right at the middle? Definitely sounded like something I wanted to read! While I wouldn't really call it a novel of romance, there was intrigue for sure, and I loved seeing Emily Dickinson as such a curious and creative young adult.

I thought young Emily was a wonderful character and the picture painted of her seems like I was reading about the real woman. All of the quirks and curiosities you would expect a budding young poet to have, Emily displays naturally and eagerly. I loved how determined she was to solve the murder despite all the resistance she meets along the way. She's very intelligent and creative, and is ahead of her time, which really just made me root for her. As for the story, I thought the mystery was set up very well and kept me in the dark just long enough that I was trying to solve it right alongside Emily. It enjoyed seeing how all the side characters contributed to the journey Emily went through to fight for what she believed was right (as well as satisfying her own curiosity, of course).

What I found really interesting about this one is the way the historical setting was woven in through the characters. It wasn't an in-your-face kind of historical setting, but rather it came through in the actions and attitudes of the people. Most especially, it came from Emily's mother. That woman is so completely of her time that I found her a little infuriating. She is what women were expected to be: a fragile home-maker and mother, and she expected her daughters to be just the same way. Emily, of course, wants so much more than that for herself. She can't stand the dull chores or being confined to the house. She wants to explore outside and have new experiences that she can use as inspiration for her writing. Her mother strongly resists this, and so when Emily tries to solve the murder mystery, her mother absolutely gets in the way. Not only was this a refreshing case of a present and responsible parent in YA (which seems to be missing fairly often these days), but it was also a wonderful contrast of generations during a time when specific social rules were expected to be adhered to.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable novel with a mystery I was genuinely interested in following and an easy-to-love new perspective on Emily Dickinson. Absolutely worth the time to read it.
4 stars.


Waiting on Wednesday #26: Belladonna

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly feature created by Jill at Breaking the Spine. This is where you showcase an upcoming release you're anxiously awaiting!

This week, I'm waiting on:
Belladonna by Fiona Paul.

Expected Publication: July 16, 2013
by Penguin/Philomel

Goodreads Blurb:
In Renaissance Italy, love, lust, intrigue and secret societies converge to stunning results!In the second in the stunning Secrets of the Eternal Rose series, Cassandra Caravello is trying to forget Falco, the wild artist who ran off with her heart, as she grows closer to her strong, steady fiancé, Luca. But Luca seems to have his own secrets. When he’s arrested by soldiers in the middle of the night, Cass’s life is once again thrown into chaos. She must save Luca, and that means finding the Book of the Eternal Rose—the only evidence that will prove he’s innocent.

So begins her journey to Florence, a city haunted by whispers of vampirism, secret soirees and clandestine meetings of the Order of the Eternal Rose. And home to Falco, who is working for the Order’s eerily stunning leader, the Belladonna herself.

Can Cass trust her heart to lead her to the truth this time?
Nothing is as it seems in this seductive thriller, where the truth may be the deadliest poison of all.

Another sensual edge-of-your-seat romance thriller that's just as alluring as Venom.

Why I'm excited: I absolutely LOVED Venom. One of my favourite books of last year. It was so beautiful. I am so impatient for this one! More Renaissance Italy! More mystery! More Falco! I need it!

What are you waiting on this week?


Katherine Longshore's Top Ten YA Historical Reads + Giveaway

Today I'm delighted to welcome Katherine Longshore to the blog! She is going to discuss her favourite YA Historical Fiction novels.

My Top Ten Favorite YA Historical Reads 
by Katherine Longshore

I have to preface this post with a disclaimer: my lists of favorites (books, movies, songs) change frequently. Almost daily. If I’ve read and not mentioned a book here, it’s because I’m a bit forgetful, not because I don’t like it. For today, these are my favorite YA historical reads. In no particular order.

The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats. Set in thirteenth century Wales, this is the story of two girls (one English, one Welsh—one rich, one poor) in the days leading up to a violent uprising. Through the girls’ distinct voices and beautiful detail, Coats brings this medieval world alive.

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly. Part romance, part murder mystery, and every inch historical, this book is set against the backdrop of the crime that inspired Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. But more than the history, it is the writing that makes this book one of my favorites. Donnelly is a master of description, of characterization and of those little turns of phrase that just make you want to weep with appreciation.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Another book that took me a long time to read because I had to savor the writing. This one made me want to stop strangers on the street and say, “Listen to this!” and read entire passages aloud. Written from the point of view of Death, it tells the story of a girl living in Germany during World War II, but really it tells so much more.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters. This gorgeous novel is a vision of post-Apocalyptic 1918, set in San Diego. The flu pandemic has made everyone paranoid and the dead are piling up in the streets. The War has killed even more, and sends the living home broken. And in the midst of it, Mary Shelley Black must solve the mystery of her childhood friend (and love of her life) who has come to haunt her.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt. I love all of Schmidt’s novels, so it was very difficult to pick just one. He has an incredible talent for description so powerful it is more about what is not said. Set in the late 1960’s, this book is about war, baseball and Shakespeare. It is funny, poignant, and utterly brilliant. This book is sometimes shelved as middle grade, but it is one of those books that bridges the gap.

VIII by H.M. Castor. I made a pledge not to read any fictional accounts of Henry VIII or his wives while I’ve been writing my own series, but I had to make an exception for this one. Told from Henry’s point of view, it’s the story of how he became the king we know and love. Published in the UK in 2011, it will be out here in August.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. This book explores a side of the second world war that I knew nothing about—the Soviet Siberian labor camps and oppression of the Lithuanians. Delicately told with deep, precise emotional intensity, this is one of my favorite books of the past few years. And Sepetys’s second book, Out of the Easy, is every inch its equal.

Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan. Meticulously researched and cleverly crafted, this is a murder mystery set in Elizabeth’s court. The characters are beautifully rendered and include a dark and enigmatic Windsor Castle.

Alternative History:

I’m fascinated by alternative histories (novels with Steampunk, paranormal and fantasy elements) and am ever in awe and admiration of the people who write them. I think you have to know your true history inside out and back to front to be able to write an alternative because you need to make good, solid, believable choices and back them up. One of my favorites is:

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. The world Westerfeld has created in this trilogy (including Goliath and Behemoth) is incredible. The detail, the creatures, the machines, the characters. Brilliantly written and a fascinating alternative to the First World War we know from history books.

I also love:

Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood. Her characters live in an alternate 19th Century America, where witches have been hunted almost to extinction and women are even more oppressed than they were in reality (but women in Saudi Arabia wear trousers and have jobs). This book is lush and beautiful and contains one of my favorite love interests of all time.

One for luck:

Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen is a retelling of the Robin Hood legend, but set in a believable and historically realistic 12th Century England. And as I recently heard a teen reader say, “Scarlet is the best fictional heroine since Hermione Granger.”

Thank you, Katherine! I absolutely have to agree with some of her picks and must scurry off to read the rest! *ashamed historical fiction loving book nerd*

Make sure you check out Katherine's upcoming novel, Tarnish, coming out in June!
Goodreads Blurb: Anne Boleyn is the odd girl out. Newly arrived to the court of King Henry VIII, everything about her seems wrong, from her clothes to her manners to her witty but sharp tongue. So when the dashing poet Thomas Wyatt offers to coach her on how to shine at court--and to convince the whole court they're lovers--she accepts. Before long, Anne's popularity has soared, and even the charismatic and irresistible king takes notice. More than popularity, Anne wants a voice--but she also wants love. What began as a game becomes high stakes as Anne finds herself forced to make an impossible choice between her heart's desire and the chance to make history.

Now, Katherine has kindly offered to give away a signed copy of the beautiful new paperback of Gilt to one lucky US/Can follower!
This gorgeous thing right here.

Some Rules (aka the not so fun but important part):
~ This giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada only.
~ No P.O. boxes.
~ Must be 13 or older to enter.
~ Winner will be chosen randomly and contacted via email. The winner has 48 hours to respond to my email, otherwise they forfeit their prize and I will choose another winner, who must abide by the same rules.
~ Neither Katherine nor I are not responsible for lost or damaged packages.
No cheating! In this case, I have the right to disqualify entries as I see fit.
~ By entering the giveaway, you are agreeing to these rules.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Growing Up With History #3

When I first began planning this feature I knew I wanted to take some time to showcase some of the novels that got me into reading and loving historical fiction in the first place. So here goes.

The Royal Diaries Series

Big thanks to Renae at Respiring Thoughts for reminding me how much I loved these books!

I remember in elementary school we would do bi-weekly visits to the school library and the day I stumbled upon the shelf full of the Royal Diaries books was a glorious day for the reader in me. I checked out these books week after week in an attempt to read them all. If the school library didn't have one, I'd drag my mom to the library to pick it up. I was determined to read every single one.

I remember some specific novels in the series that really captured my eye and my attention.

 The stories of Catherine, Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette, and Mary, Queen of Scots are the four that really stand out to me as diaries I loved reading. I think for Cleopatra and Marie Anotinette that had a lot to do with them being figures I already knew about and therefore had me dying to read more. I loved how the diary format made these young women so accessible and so easy to relate to. I will never face the struggles and decisions that these girls did, but when I read these books I felt like they were just like me.

I think reading and loving these novels when I was young helped develop the love I have today for historical fiction novels that provide the perspective of a royal figure. Not only are they full of drama because of all the deception and the power at stake around them, but more often than not, when a novel like that is very well written, I still feel like I can relate to that figure, despite having never experienced anything like what they did on a regular basis. I absolutely love those novels, and I think these books set that love up for me.

Also, side note: on three of the four covers the girls have an animal with them. What does that tell you about young me?

Have you read the Royal Diaries or a similar series? Do you enjoy historical fiction from a royal perspective nowadays? I want to hear your thoughts!


Guest Post: Shana Mlawski on Why She Writes Historical + Giveaway

Today I'm happy to welcome Shana Mlawski to the blog to talk about why she loves and writes historical fiction novels.

Why Historical Fiction?
by Shana Mlawski

Why do we write historical fiction? Why do we love it?

I was excited when Jessica raised these questions on the Twitters, because historical fiction – more specifically, historical fantasy – is my genre, and I looove talking about it. But the more I tried to answer, the more complicated the questions seemed.

Why do I like historical fiction?
Well, what kind of historical fiction do you mean?

Recently there's been some great discussion on the Lee & Low blog about “mirror books” and “window books.” A mirror book shows readers people like themselves, while a window book shows people from a completely different background. Readers, especially young readers, need both kinds of fiction so they can both affirm themselves and understand others.

The more I think about it, the more I think this distinction should apply to works of historical fiction as well. When we read “window” historical fiction, we peer through the panes of time to see a culture that is in many respects alien to us. This type of fiction is rife with sensory details – lush descriptions of olde tyme clothing, foodstuffs, politics, smells. The authors of window historical fiction don't want us to simply enjoy a story. They want us to be there.

Consider one of my faves, Clan of the Cave Bear. Jean Auel loaded that book with so many details that by the time I finished reading it I didn't just know what Neanderthals were like in the Stone Age; I was confident I could make my own hand-ax from scratch. That's window historical fiction in a nutshell.

In contrast, “mirror” historical fiction holds up a mirror to modern times. It cares less about showing us what life was like Back Then and more about showing us what we're like Right Now. In this kind of fiction, history becomes a land of symbol, a secondary world as fantastic as Oz.

The Diviners is a great example of a literary mirror. As rich in period detail as its Roaring Twenties setting is, no one, I think, believes it gives a totally realistic picture of what daily life was like in the 1920s. Even if we disregard the book's paranormal elements, I'm going to go out on a limb and say young people back then probably weren't all flappers, Harlem Renaissance poets, and charming con artists. Rather, author Bray playfully and masterfully deploys archetypes we associate with the era to say something about the conflicts between good and evil, tradition and modernity, materialism and spirituality – conflicts we're dealing with now in 2013.

We can see the distinction between mirror and window fiction in the movies, too. This year, the naturalistic Lincoln acted as a window into the Civil War era, while the more exaggerated Django Unchained (set in roughly the same time period) acted as a funhouse mirror. We call both these films “historical fiction,” but I'm thinking maybe they don't belong the same genre. Window historical fiction is more like realism, except it's set in the past, while mirror historical fiction is closer to allegory.

In any event, I love both kinds for different reasons. I love window stories for the same reason I love stories set on other planets: it's simply cool to be transported to a different place and time. Window stories spark the imagination and remind us that the way things are isn't the way things have to be.

And I'm a huge fan of mirror historical fiction. My debut, Hammer of Witches, lives firmly on the other side of the looking glass, deep in the Land of Mirrordom. Although the book gives readers a reasonably accurate view of life in 1492, ultimately I cared less about the window-dressing and more about telling a story. Did I try to get all the names and dates right? Of course. Did I spend days holed up in the rare books section of the library, reading about 15th century fabrics and footwear? You're darn right, I did. Here, check out my partial Works Cited page.

But what can I tell you? If you set a book in 1492 Spain, the book's going to be about Christopher Columbus, no way around it, and it can't just be about the living, breathing guy. It's got to be about the myth. As historian Matthew Restall says, Columbus “is not a fifteenth-century man, but a nineteeth-century one with a twentieth-century veneer.” Focusing on what Columbus ate and what style of hat he wore would be missing the point. In Hammer of Witches, then, history is less of a place and more of a symbol and a story—and what a powerful story it is.


Shana Mlawski is a native New Yorker, though she's previously lived in Connecticut and Puerto Rico. You may have read one of her many articles or seen one of her popular infographics on the pop culture website OverthinkingIt.com. Show her a video of a kitten or a panda and she will be your friend for life.

Amazon, GoodreadsMy websiteTwitterFacebook fan pageHammer of Witches on Lee & Low's website

BOOK SUMMARY (from Goodreads):

Baltasar Infante can weasel out of any problem with a good story. But when he encounters a monster straight out of stories one night, Baltasar faces trouble even he can’t talk his way out of. Captured by the Malleus Maleficarum, a mysterious witch-hunting arm of the Spanish Inquisition, Baltasar is put to the question. The Inquisitor demands he reveal the whereabouts of Amir al-Katib, a legendary Moorish sorcerer who can bring myths and the creatures within them to life. Now Baltasar must escape, find al-Katib, and defeat a dreadful power that may destroy the world. As Baltasar’s journey takes him into uncharted lands on Columbus’s voyage westward, he learns that stories are more powerful than he once believed them to be—and much more dangerous. Shana Mlawski’s magical debut novel takes a fresh look at one of the pivotal moments in human history.


“An engaging, magical adventure set against the historical backdrop of Columbus’ westward voyage.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“Stories come alive in this rousing historical fantasy... A fast-paced coming-of-age adventure.”
—Publishers Weekly

“A dazzling, richly imagined tale about history, legend, and the fantastic power of story.”
—Diana Peterfreund, author of For Darkness Shows the Stars

“Everything I crave in a story. What a fantastic voyage!”
—Lesley Livingston, author of Wondrous Strange

Shana has been kind enough to offer up a copy of Hammer of Witches to one lucky US follower!

Some Rules (aka the not so fun but important part):
~ This giveaway is open to residents of the US only.
~ No P.O. boxes.
~ Must be 13 or older to enter.
~ Winner will be chosen randomly and contacted via email. The winner has 48 hours to respond to my email, otherwise they forfeit their prize and I will choose another winner, who must abide by the same rules.
~ Neither Shana nor I are not responsible for lost or damaged packages.
No cheating! In this case, I have the right to disqualify entries as I see fit.
~ By entering the giveaway, you are agreeing to these rules.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Waiting on Wednesday #25: Beauty's Daughter

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly feature created by Jill at Breaking the Spine. This is where you showcase an upcoming release you're anxiously awaiting!

This week, I'm waiting on:
Beauty's Daughter by Carolyn Meyer.

Expected Publication: October 8, 2013
by: Harcourt Children's Books.

Goodreads Blurb:
The Spartan princess Hermione is the daughter of Helen, who is known as the most beautiful woman in the ancient world. When Helen runs off to Troy with the handsome young Prince Paris, Hermione's father, King Menelaus, erupts in fury. He amasses a thousand ships and sails for Troy, determined to reclaim Helen. This is the beginning of the Trojan War.
For the next ten years, young Hermione lives outside the walls of Troy and is a witness to the battles that result in the death of heroes on both sides. Can she ever forgive her mother for creating such chaos? And will Hermione find her own love and her own place in the world?

Why I'm excited: I LOVE the ancient world and all its mythology and stories. I find there really aren't enough ancient history novels in YA, so I can't wait to devour this one. I also love that it's from a perspective you wouldn't usually consider.

What are you waiting on this week?


Fiona Paul's (and Mine) Top Ten Historical Hotties

Top Ten: Jess and Fiona’s Historical Hotties

Today I'm so excited to have the lovely Fiona Paul here to share her historical hotties! Who doesn't love a good hottie? They're so prevalent and well-loved in historical fiction novels that it's fun to look at the real-life past hotties. We each came up with five to make this a full top ten list! In the vein of The Broke and the Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday, we want to share our favourite hotties with you today. So without further ado, welcome, Fiona!

Fiona: "Okay, people. In some cases I'm going to have to apply the term ‘hottie’ a bit liberally as the historical look just doesn't do it for me. So many bad haircuts…so much facial hair. Seriously, if the guy who invented the razor was on Facebook, I would totally like his page. Twice." Note from Jess: I agree. Just because they made this list doesn't mean they really are total hotties overall... we had to work with what we could find!

"Here we go, from most ancient to least ancient:"

F: Euripides: Euripides definitely rocked that flowing beard/flowing robe combo of which I'm not so fond, but he’s also been described as avoiding society and living mostly in the enjoyment of an excellent library. I like the idea of a guy embracing his inner nerd in Ancient Greece while his friends all got drunk on the steps of the local temple. Euripides also wrote the play Medea, which reads to me and many others like a feminist text. That’s pretty progressive for 450 BC.

 Alexander the Great:
Alexander is kind of the quintessential hottie of the ancient world, and that sculpture seems to do him justice.

 He was a world-class military leader and a smart ruler. He created one of the biggest empires of the ancient world (conquering almost the entire known world at the time) by the time he was thirty. And all while remaining undefeated. He was such an amazing leader that people still measure themselves against him in modern times. Not to mention the fact that there are plenty of cities that were named after him, like Alexandria in Egypt. When a man's impressive legacy lasts this long, you know he was good. 

 J: Spartacus: Yes, my second hottie from the ancient world. What can I say, I love the times. But hey, Spartacus was a slave who got sick and tired of the way he was treated, so he led an enormous slave rebellion against Rome. He got thousands of slaves to stand with him and fight against the people who were treating them poorly. Though he met his demise either in the revolt or in the following mass crucifixions, he died fighting for his freedom and the freedom of so many other slaves. If that isn't brave, I don't know what is. 

J: King Arthur:
How could you not love King Arthur? Look at him over there  in his suit of armour. Now that is a man right there. Though Arthur Pendragon is most likely just a legend (I thought it'd be safe to include him anyway because we're all book people here), he defended Britain against the Saxons. He held the Round Table and had knights at his beck and call. As is often the case for good men, he was brought down, along with his kingdom, by the woman he loved. Any man who truly loves a woman that much is a good man in my books. Plus the last name Pendragon would be the coolest last name for a fantasy lover.

J: Sir Walter Raleigh: Good old Raleigh has been depicted as a love interest in many a novel and that may be the real reason for my interest in him. He gained the favour of Queen Elizabeth I very quickly and many novels about her life depict the two of them as at least coming very close to having an affair. He also sailed to America and explored Virginia, as well as having sailed to and explored South America. But that's not all: he was also a writer, a poet, and a spy. A man who could do that many things AND charmed The Virgin Queen? Sounds good to me!

F: Edgar Allan Poe: Poe generally looks like a depressed serial killer in his  pictures and he married his thirteen-year-old cousin which is totes creepy, but there's still something alluring about him. I usually don’t like a guy followed around by a dark cloud, but with Poe it just all seems to work, like he was the first Goth kid or something. Plus, there's no denying he was a fabulous writer. Thinking about The Pit and the Pendulum still scares the crap out of me some twenty years after I read it.

F: Theodore Roosevelt: Besides being the youngest president ever, Roosevelt was also a naturalist, explorer, hunter, author, and soldier. Suddenly I feel like such a slacker. But no, I dig a high-achieving guy who pushes me to be my best. And it gets even better. In 1912, Roosevelt was shot on stage while campaigning. The bullet went through his eyeglasses case and a thick sheaf of papers he had in his shirt pocket. As an experienced hunter and anatomist, Roosevelt could tell that the bullet hadn't pierced all the way through to his lung since he wasn't coughing up blood. So instead of going to the hospital he stayed at the event and finished his freaking speech!! is it possible to be more badass than that? T-Rose, you’re my hero. Call me, maybe?

F: Pablo Picasso: What blows my mind about Picasso is that he was so talented in so many different artistic  styles. I'm a huge fan of Cubism but I know just as many people who like his realistic stuff. Also of note: Picasso had moves—he was a huge ladies' man. Women forty years younger than he was got into catfights and left their husbands for him. His second wife even took her own life after he died! And yes, it's true, if this self-portrait is to be believed, Picasso was pretty fine. In fact, he reminds me a little of Falco…
 J: Gene Kelly: I couldn't go as far as Fiona's final choice and take on the 90s (it scares me that those are "historical" now!) so for my final hottie I went with Gene Kelly, a movie star in the 1940s and 50s. He first made me fall in love with him in 1952's movie-musical Singin' in the Rain, a movie which I watch at least every other month. Seriously, if you haven't seen that musical, please give it a try. Gene is magical in it. He was an incredible dancer, a beautiful singer, and classically handsome. Plus, he was funny. Not to mention the fact that in his career he also danced with Jerry the mouse as well as tap-danced in roller skates. That's right. Tap danced in roller skates. It's very impressive. Please watch this video and see what I mean.

Pretty amazing, no?

F: Brandon Lee: As disturbing as it is that the 90s are now considered historical—um, when did I get old??—I'm psyched because it means I get to include one of my most favorite people in this list. Bruce Lee’s son, Brandon, was a phenomenal martial artist and a total hottie in looks and personality. He died in a tragic on-set accident while making The Crow, a gorgeous Gothic story about love and revenge, based on James O’Barr’s graphic novel. Brandon, The Crow, and the movie's awesome 90s soundtrack remain huge personal and creative influences for me to this day.

J: So, those are our favourite historical hotties. We love them not only for their looks but also for the things they have done and the places they hold in history and in our hearts. Do you agree with any of our picks? Are there any historical hotties that we missed?

A big thank you goes out to Fiona for sharing her hotties! Make sure you check out Fiona's novels, Venom and the upcoming Belladonna, where there happens to be a hottie who I very much enjoy, Falco. A little Renaissance Italy, a little Falco... very fitting with this post!


Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

Published February 6, 2012.
Published by Egmont Press.
Source: Won from Manda-Rae Reads a Lot. Thank you!

Goodreads Blurb:
I have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.

That’s what you do to enemy agents. It’s what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine — and I will do anything, anything, to avoid SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden interrogating me again.

He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I’m going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France — an Allied Invasion of Two.

We are a sensational team.

My Review:
What a beautiful novel. It was powerful, it was heart-wrenching, and it kept me up until the wee hours of the morning reading because I just could not put it down.

Despite a bit of a slow start, this novel is exactly what I look for in historical fiction. It is written like diary entries as Verity's information reveal to her German captor and is one of the most emotional novels I have read in a while. It really brought me into the mind of a girl kept in what for many today would be an unimaginable situation.

I loved Verity as a character. She is a very likeable narrator who loves to throw some twists at her captors (and therefore at the reader as well). It was really interesting to me how self-deprecating she was while also remaining so endearing. She has wit and she is amusingly clever, even though she is in the worst of circumstances, which are certainly not glossed over. The harsh realities of being a prisoner-of-war in German-Occupied France during World War II are explored through Verity's convincing and terrifying fears and really helped to bring the horror of the time alive. Her story is absolutely heartbreaking and it's so easy to let it get to you, but because Verity as narrator is so entertaining, she doesn't let you wallow in it. She reveals something absolutely horrible and then makes some remark or tells some story that you can't help but enjoy until the horror begins to slip your mind. The way she was written truly makes for the perfect combination of humour and heartbreak that this kind of novel set in this time period deserves.

There were a few other aspects about the story that I loved. Since it is written as Verity recording her past like flashbacks, there was an interesting blend of her memories from then and her comments on the situations from now that made for a great flow. I found it very cool how I would learn something and immediately want to go back and read the last section of the novel again with this new information or perspective I had. Also, while I was reading, I would find myself with a question only to have it answered soon afterwards, which really encouraged me to keep reading and learning more. Not to mention the unexpected twists later in the novel that turned everything on its head. That I absolutely loved. It really was an amazing novel in all its aspects.
5 stars!

Elizabeth was kind enough to provide a signed copy of Code Name Verity to one lucky reader!

Some Rules (aka the not so fun but important part):
~ This giveaway is open Internationally.
~ No P.O. boxes.
~ Must be 13 or older to enter.
~ Winner will be chosen randomly and contacted via email. The winner has 48 hours to respond to my email, otherwise they forfeit their prize and I will choose another winner, who must abide by the same rules.
~ Neither Elizabeth nor I are not responsible for lost or damaged packages.
No cheating! In this case, I have the right to disqualify entries as I see fit.
~ By entering the giveaway, you are agreeing to these rules.

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Growing Up With History #2

When I first began planning this feature I knew I wanted to take some time to showcase some of the novels that got me into reading and loving historical fiction in the first place. So here goes.

Growing Up With Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Little House on the Prairie Books

Laura and her family were the American family for me when I was growing up. Set in 1870 in the American mid-west, the novels follow "America's Original Pioneer Girl."

I fell in love with Laura and her diary-stories because she gave me an intimate view of the daily life of a young girl around my age in that time. I felt like I could plant myself there and be part of her life. I became convinced I could live just like her. I even made a club with my little brother and modelled parts of it on the way Laura lived. I played out her life with my Playmobil figures. I LOVED her story.

I read these books countless times and wished I could be Laura. I remember reading about her family's simple but oh so country Christmas celebrations and their move from Wisconsin to Kansas in a carriage and longing to experience something like that. Sometimes part of me still thinks that I belong in that life (and then I think about everything I'd miss about today and think maybe not). Either way, these books were a huge influence on my life and I still reread them now... which reminds me, I'm actually due for a series reread soon!

Have you read these books? Did you love them as much as I did? Did you wish you could be Laura like I did? I'd love to know!