Latest Reviews

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Book Review: Sorcerer to the Crown – Zen Cho

sorcerer-to-the-crownTitle: Sorcerer to the Crown
Author: Zen Cho
ISBN: 9780425283370
Pages: 384
Release Date: September 1, 2015
Publisher: Ace
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Publisher

Summary

Zacharias Smythe, a former freed slave, has ascended to the highest position in the realm for sorcerers: the Sorcerer Royal. It’s huge for a black man to hold such a position in England, but all is not well: not everyone is happy at what Zacharias has achieved. What’s more, the flow of magic has stopped to the country from Fairyland, and Zacharias must figure out why and how to turn it on again.

Review

I’ve been trying to read more science fiction and fantasy lately. Both are genres I adore in film and TV, but I haven’t really explored either much when it comes to books. That’s been changing quickly, especially as some really great inclusive sci fi and fantasy has been releasing lately, with all kinds of great representation. Such is the case with Zen Cho’s Sorceror to the Crown, set in a Victorian-esque Britain and featuring a black Sorcerer Royal and a young woman who performs magic against her country’s laws.

Let me just say this right now: Sorcerer to the Crown is so incredibly good. It takes a world that is based on our own, but adds magic to it. The same prejudices, the same social constraints, exist as they did 100–200 years ago: racism is firmly in place, and women aren’t allowed to perform magic. The two main characters in this book, Zacharias and Prunella, refuse to be defined by stereotypes and refuse to conform to what society expects of them. It’s fresh and new; these characters are simultaneously very sympathetic and easy to relate to but also incredibly inspiring.

Sorcerer to the Crown takes its sweet time with the story. That’s not to say it’s slow, because I was intrigued the entire time, but you don’t quite know where the novel is going until you’re well into it. Cho takes her time building the world, establishing its fundamentals, before we really know what’s going to happen. This is not a novel that plunges the reader straight into action, nor is it one where you’re thrust into a world you don’t understand, floundering and desperate to glean hints about what’s going on from textual clues. Sometimes that can be fun; more often, it’s quite frustrating, and as a result, I appreciate the care Cho took with her fantasy setting.

I’m not going to go any further into plot with Sorcerer to the Crown because so much of the delight of this novel is not knowing what’s around every corner. Let’s just say that Prunella and Zacharias are both absolutely wonderful characters, and I’m so glad this is the first in a series. Cho left me satisfied with the ending, yet very much wanting to know what comes next for both of these characters. If, like me, you’re looking at picking up more fantasy novels in 2016, this is one you shouldn’t miss.

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Book Review: The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor – Elizabeth Norton

temptation-elizabeth-tudorTitle: The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor: Elizabeth I, Thomas Seymour, and the Making of a Virgin Queen
Author: Elizabeth Norton
ISBN: 9781605989488
Pages: 416
Release Date: January 4, 2016
Publisher: Pegasus
Genre: Nonfiction—History
Source: Publisher

Summary

In The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor: Elizabeth I, Thomas Seymour, and the Making of a Virgin Queen, historian Elizabeth Norton looks at a short time in the life of the woman who would become Elizabeth I—after the death of her father, King Henry VIII, but before her brother’s death. Norton examines the evidence surrounding rumors of an affair between the very young princess and Thomas Seymour and discusses the larger implications and ramifications they had.

Review

Despite its title, The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor: Elizabeth I, Thomas Seymour, and the Making of a Virgin Queen is much larger than just the investigation of the possibility surrounding a scandalous affair. It is a snapshot of life in England after the death of a once-loved now-feared monarch, a country in religious turmoil and unsure of its future. Norton does a great job setting the scene for this book; she uses narrative interludes to really give the reader a feel for the times, for the uncertainty that surrounded everything and everyone, to great effect.

The two main pillars of The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor are Thomas Seymour, husband to the former queen (and Henry VIII’s sixth wife) Katherine Parr, and the princess herself. The meteoric rise of Elizabeth I is juxtaposed beautifully against the fall of Seymour; as Elizabeth gains prudence and wisdom and regrets her childish folly, Seymour revels in his foolishness and pays the ultimate price. It’s interesting to see how Seymour’s actions affect Elizabeth, and how we can presume they shaped her and her future reign.

Did Elizabeth Tudor actually have an affair with her stepfather? It’s the million-dollar question, and Norton doesn’t side step it. She tackles it head on, but it’s clear there’s no agenda or bias behind her work. She presents evidence that could possibly support the idea that they did indeed, and there was a child born from it—but also takes care to present alternative hypotheses that also fit the evidence. I appreciated this balanced look at the issue.

Sometimes histories can be dry, but The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor never suffers from that. It’s always engaging and interesting, filled to the brim with fantastic historical personages. Norton does especially well with Seymour; he was the worst of the worst, preying on a young princess who he was supposed to protect, and the author manages to portray that well without ever appearing to pass judgment on him. If you enjoy reading British history, this is a book that should definitely be on your shelf.

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Book Review: The Muralist – B. A. Shapiro

the-muralistTitle: The Muralist
Author: B. A. Shapiro
ISBN: 9781616203573
Pages: 352
Release Date: November 3, 2015
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher

Summary

When Danielle, who works at Christie’s auction house, finds pieces of ripped painted canvas stored behind other paintings, she thinks she recognizes the style. Danielle’s great-aunt, Alizee, was a painter working alongside Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollack, though Alizee disappeared without a trace during World War II. Defying her bosses, Danielle begins tracing these mysterious scraps, eager to discover whether they were painted by Alizee and what might have happened to her great-aunt.

Review

I have a confession: I’m not often interested in reading historical novels imagining the lives of painters/writers/artists. I understand some people absolutely love these types of books, but for some reason, I’m never able to really get interested in them. So when I heard the premise of The Muralist, I was torn—I absolutely adored Shapiro’s previous novel, The Art Forger, but I wasn’t quite sure this new one was for me. In the end, I decided to give it a chance, and I’m so glad, because I really loved getting to know Alizee.

The novel is divided into two different stories, with the focus on Alizee before America’s entry into World War II. Though she was working in New York as a painter, Alizee’s entire family was back in Europe, and as they were Jewish, it wasn’t exactly a safe or secure time for them. Shapiro does an excellent job balancing history, politics, and character development; I was as intrigued by the art history as I was curious about what Alizee was going to do next.

The politics of The Muralist are very interesting. Shapiro clearly researched the United States’ immigration policies, detailing how difficult the country made it for Jewish refugees to emigrate from Europe. It has interesting parallels, given current world events, and as a result, this novel would make an excellent book club pick. Readers will certainly want to discuss the political aspects of the novel as they revel in the wonderful atmosphere Shapiro has created for the reader.

At times, The Muralist can feel overly busy because Shapiro packs a lot into this novel, but in the end, readers won’t be able to put it down as they race to discover Alizee’s fate. It’s a smart, fun novel, despite the fact that it deals with heavy topics. Fans of art history and historical novels shouldn’t hesitate to pick up this book.

Other books by B. A. Shapiro:

The Art Forger

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Book Review: Tiny Little Thing & Along the Infinite Sea – Beatriz Williams

along-the-infinite-seaTitle: Tiny Little Thing / Along the Infinite Sea
Author: Beatriz Williams
ISBN: 9780399171307 / 9780399171314
Pages: 368 / 464
Release Date: June 23 / November 3, 2015
Publisher: Putnam
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher

Summary

These two novels follow the Schulyer sisters Tiny and Pepper as they come to terms with the blows life have dealt them and pick up the pieces, separately and together. In Tiny Little Thing, Tiny is the perfect wife to the perfect husband, Frank, who has ambitions to one day lead the Senate. But when her sister, Pepper, shows up unannounced on her doorstep with a serious problem, at nearly the same time that Caspian, Frank’s best friend from the war, turns up, it’s almost more than Tiny can handle, as her life begins to fall apart. Along the Infinite Sea, meanwhile, is Pepper’s story that directly follows. Pepper meets a mysterious woman who has a complicated past involving World War II and the Nazis, and it turns out she may be able to help Pepper in ways that Pepper can’t imagine.

Review

Ahh, Beatriz Williams. Your books are like a breath of fresh air, so intriguing and engaging and utterly tiny-little-thingheartbreaking/heartwarming (at the same time, a remarkable feat). Every time I hear that a Beatriz Williams book is releasing, my heart leaps. I love her books so much because they are reliably gripping, telling a gorgeous, lush love story that is atmospheric and that transports you utterly. But her novels are also unexpected and tense; there’s always something to up the ante, to make the story that much more compelling, and it always has me racing through the last pages, desperate to uncover what will happen.

Both Tiny Little Thing and Along the Infinite Sea have excellent pacing. That may seem like a strange compliment, but it’s hard to write a novel that is both suspenseful but also delivers enough on each page to keep readers engaged and interested. Williams has really mastered that, as is evident over the course of her five novels. She writes amazing characters that the reader falls in love with from the very start; they’re sassy, witty, and incredibly smart women, but they are each so different from one another. It’d be really easy for Williams to tell variations on the same story over and over again, but somehow she manages to make each character and novel unique.

If you’re interested in reading these books, you can dive into each as a standalone; they focus on different characters, but they’re all connected. If you want the full experience, start with A Hundred Summers, and then The Secret Life of Violet Grant. Follow those with Tiny Little Thing, and finally, Along the Infinite Sea. There are common characters that run through these stories, and it’s a lot of fun to make connections and see where characters you enjoyed reading about two books ago are now. But if the idea of reading four books seems like too much, then please just pick up whichever one interests you; I don’t care how everyone reads these books, but I need everyone to read them and love them as much as I do.

Enough gushing? Probably. I’m sure if I tried really hard, I could come up with some nitpicky issues about these novels. For example, the choices of a certain character in Along the Infinite Sea were frustrating and difficult, but that didn’t lessen my enjoyment. Williams knows how to create an entire package, and when one aspect of the novel gets frustrating, she balances it out with something amazing on another front. It’s so well done, and I can’t describe enough how much I love these incredible books.

Other books by Beatriz Williams:

Overseas
A Hundred SummersThe Secret Life of Violet Grant

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Book Review: Year of Yes – Shonda Rhimes

year-of-yes

Title: Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person Author: Shonda Rhimes ISBN: 9781476777092 Pages: 336 Release Date: November 10, 2015 Publisher: Simon & Schuster Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir Source: Publisher Summary In this untraditional memoir, Shonda Rhimes discusses her amazing success, shattering the glass ceiling for […]

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Book Review: The Bollywood Bride – Sonali Dev

bollywood-bride

Title: The Bollywood Bride Author: Sonali Dev ISBN: 9781617730153 Pages: 352 Release Date: September 29, 2015 Publisher: Kensington Genre: Romance, Cultural (South Asian) Source: Publisher Summary Ria Parker’s nickname in Bollywood is the Ice Princess—she’s cultivated her reputation as an untouchable, emotionless actress very carefully, as she doesn’t want to let anyone see what’s underneath the surface. […]

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Book Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger – Rae Carson

walk-on-earth-a-stranger

Title: Walk on Earth a Stranger Author: Rae Carson ISBN: 9780062242914 Pages: 448 Release Date: September 22, 2015 Publisher: Greenwillow Books Genre: Historical Fiction, Teen/YA Source: Review Copy Summary Leah is a 15-year-old living in Georgia in the 1800s, and though the gold rush is coming to an end, Leah’s unique ability means that she has […]

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Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – Marie Kondo

life-changing-magic

Title: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing Author: Marie Kondo ISBN: 9781607747307 Pages: 224 Release Date: October 14, 2014 Publisher: Ten Speed Press Genre: Nonfiction, Self-Help Source: Personal Copy Summary: A tidy house is a happy house. True? Marie Kondo believes so. Kondo is an expert on tidying, a […]

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