Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Review: Girl on the Golden Coin by Marci Jefferson

Publisher: February 11th 2014 by Thomas Dunne Books - St. Martin's Press
ISBN: 9781250037220
Pages: 336 pages
How We Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction, European literature 17th century, romance
Our Rating: three cups

Impoverished and exiled to the French countryside after the overthrow of the English Crown, Frances Stuart survives merely by her blood-relation to the Stuart Royals. But in 1660, the Restoration of the Stuart Monarchy in England returns her family to favor. Frances discards threadbare gowns and moves to gilded Fontainebleau Palace, where she soon catches the Sun King’s eye. But Frances is no ordinary court beauty—she has Stuart secrets to keep and her family to protect. King Louis XIV turns vengeful when she rejects his offer to become his Official Mistress. He banishes her to England with orders to seduce King Charles II and secure an alliance.

Armed in pearls and silks, Frances maneuvers the political turbulence of Whitehall Palace, but still can’t afford to stir a scandal. Her tactic to inspire King Charles to greatness captivates him. He believes her love can make him a better man, and even chooses Frances to pose as Britannia for England’s coins. Frances survives the Great Fire, the Great Plague, and the debauchery of the Restoration Court, yet loses her heart to the very king she must control. The discovery of a dangerous plot will force her to choose between love for herself and war for her beloved country.

In the tradition of Phillipa Gregory, debut author Marci Jefferson brings to life a captivating woman whose beauty, compassion, and intellect impacted a king and a nation.

Our thoughts:

“King Charles had shown me an ancient coin:
“See this woman here. This is the figure the ancient Romans chose to represent this land when they conquered it more than a thousand years ago. They called her Britannia. I plan to issue new farthings….my profile shall be on one side, and you, as a triumphant Britannia, will….(be) on the reverse”.

Thus is the infamy of Frances Stuart and her role in the English court during the Restoration period. She led an interesting life in two powerful countries, if half of what is written in this novel were to be true. Overall we found this story enjoyable and interesting to learn about a historical figure that was new to us. We just wish we could have learned more, seeing that we are not that familiar with Charles II and Restoration England. A definite highlight is that Jefferson provides an ‘Author’s Note’ at the conclusion explaining the historical facts and myths taken in the novel and some of her motives in how she portrayed the people and events.

There were a few token parts on religious conflict and war, some sumptuous illustrative descriptions of court and the clothes worn of the period, but overall, the authenticity was lacking as the focus is on what we would call soap opera. Sadly at times we found this tale to be likened to a high school drama, it read like a regency romance: who they like and who they don’t, proposals, squeals (good and bad), rejections and cat fights over who was sleeping with whom. This certainly makes the novel more romantic fiction than historical fiction.

Also, as necessary as it is to move the historical storytelling along, it did at times however, have major skips in time that made some made events feel superficial and an ending that was somewhat abrupt. Perhaps the book needed to be longer to provide both characters (this would have gone a long way to help explain emotional feelings and decision making) and events (the Great Fire of London was lucky to be detailed in a couple of pages) with more depth.

We don't want to sound too negative because we didn't actually dislike Girl on the Golden Coin – it was a quick read that kept us entertained and helped provide us with a brief introduction to Charles II reign. If you enjoy historical romance and either like this particular period or are looking for something slightly different, in the light historical fiction genre, you may well enjoy this. It's glamorous, sexy, and a quick read.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Review: Time and Time Again by Ben Elton

Title:  Time and Time Again

Author: Ben Elton
Publisher: 9th December 2014 Random House UK, Transworld Publishers, Bantam Press
ISBN: 9780593073568
Pages: 334 pages
How We Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction, time travel, thriller
Our Rating: four cups


It’s the 1st of June 1914 and Hugh Stanton, ex-soldier and celebrated adventurer is quite literally the loneliest man on earth. No one he has ever known or loved has been born yet. Perhaps now they never will be.

Stanton knows that a great and terrible war is coming. A collective suicidal madness that will destroy European civilization and bring misery to millions in the century to come. He knows this because, for him, that century is already history.

Somehow he must change that history. He must prevent the war. A war that will begin with a single bullet. But can a single bullet truly corrupt an entire century?

And, if so, could another single bullet save it?

Our thoughts:

“If you could change one thing in history, if you had the opportunity to go back into the past, to one place and one time and change one thing, where would you go? What would you do?”

How thought provoking is that! What discussions could be had over a few drinks! This book is so very clever and ‘thought provoking’ does not even begin to come close on the possibilities that Elton delivers in this fictional drama. Everyone should read this book for the social commentary alone. Moral, social and cultural dilemmas are thrown at the reader from every angle. Add to that the historical detail and societal norms – thorough and real to life so you feel you are on the streets in Sarajevo or Berlin. We especially found the Franz Ferdinand assassination to be so extraordinary and incredible attention given to detail. Throw into the mix a fictional man on a mission and you have the recipe for one incredible journey of adventure.

We could not put this book down! Elton almost delivers the perfect novel – the premise has you from the get-go and from then on come twists and turns that will keep you ripping through the pages to the very end. The concept is well conceived and the writing clever and highly entertaining.

Although one suspends reality in a fiction book, there are occasions when marrying the factual truths and potential shift in scenarios, a bit too generous. For example, don’t delve too deeply into Newton’s supposed physics on time travel (fascinating though they are) and logistics big (could WW1 really have been prevented) and small (gun and ammunition questions) were difficult to fathom on a few occasions.

There is also the introduction of a major character, who although fascinating, took the spotlight off the essence of the tale (that aspect is a whole new story in itself). The whole balance of the book felt off to us towards the end – slightly rushed? But we guess, where was Elton to draw the line? That is the thing about going back in time. How can you know you've fixed things, improved past mistakes to make a better world?

Despite these minor hiccups, we thoroughly enjoyed this novel and highly recommend it.

“The debate always degenerated into name-calling battles been the Marxists, who contended that much of history was inevitable the result of preordained economic and material forces, and the romantics, who believed that history was made by individuals and that a single stomach ache or an undelivered love letter could have changed everything."

Are you a Marxist or Romantic? Read ‘Time and Time Again’ to discover that and much, much more.

You wont regret it.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Review: The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant

Title:  The Boston Girl

Author: Anita Diamant
Publisher: 9th December 2014 by Scribner
Pages:  256 pages
How We Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction, coming of age
Our Rating: three cups


From the New York Times bestselling author of The Red Tent and Day After Night, comes an unforgettable novel about family ties and values, friendship and feminism told through the eyes of a young Jewish woman growing up in Boston in the early twentieth century.

Addie Baum is The Boston Girl, born in 1900 to immigrant parents who were unprepared for and suspicious of America and its effect on their three daughters. Growing up in the North End, then a teeming multicultural neighborhood, Addie’s intelligence and curiosity take her to a world her parents can’t imagine—a world of short skirts, movies, celebrity culture, and new opportunities for women. Addie wants to finish high school and dreams of going to college. She wants a career and to find true love.

Eighty-five-year-old Addie tells the story of her life to her twenty-two-year-old granddaughter, who has asked her “How did you get to be the woman you are today.” She begins in 1915, the year she found her voice and made friends who would help shape the course of her life. From the one-room tenement apartment she shared with her parents and two sisters, to the library group for girls she joins at a neighborhood settlement house, to her first, disastrous love affair, Addie recalls her adventures with compassion for the na├»ve girl she was and a wicked sense of humor.

Written with the same attention to historical detail and emotional resonance that made Anita Diamant’s previous novels bestsellers, TheBoston Girl is a moving portrait of one woman’s complicated life in twentieth century America, and a fascinating look at a generation of women finding their places in a changing world.

Our thoughts:

Anita Diamant's novel begins with a question: "How did you get to be the woman you are today?" Thus follows the telling of a remarkable tale, one so well written, that at times you have to remind yourself it is indeed fiction.

This is the story of Addie Baum - Jewish daughter to immigrant parents; she grew up during the mid-1900s in Boston. As a teenager Addie is asked to recite “Paul Revere’s Ride” at the Saturday Club, a group for young women from many different religious and ethnic backgrounds who gather together each weekend.  This is the beginning of Addie’s journey – a journey that would develop her fortitude and intellect, as she forms friendships, faces family tragedies, follows her aspirations in exploring her career options and eventually finding romance. Diamant covers a lot of history as Addie’s story unfolds: prohibition; 1920s flappers and artists; World War I; The Great Depression; the Spanish Flu; women’s education and careers; journalism and a woman’s place in it.

“People kept saying, ‘Life goes on’. Sometimes that sounded like a wish and sometimes if felt like an order. I wanted to scream, ‘Life goes on? Not for everyone, it doesn’t”.

All of these experiences combine to make Addie the woman she is today, and is representative of a generation of women who pursued freedom in an attempt to make something of their lives, something that traditionally was outside the boundaries of what women should have aspired to.  So many memorable characters are woven throughout this story. We especially enjoyed the independent spirit of several of the women - her sister Betty and Filomena, to name but two.

“Filomena just knew who she was, which wasn’t so easy back then. I guess it’s still not easy, is it? It took me until I was in my forties before I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up”.

Our only criticism is in the closing stages of the novel. The last part of the book just felt rushed, a lot of time covered in a few short chapters pertaining to Addie's later years. Given that the majority of the book was such rich story telling, we just felt that the strings of this story were not neatly tied together.

Overall, however, this was an engaging tale that we would recommend to other readers who enjoy this genre and time period.

                        Our rating: 

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Review: Hello From The Gillespies by Monica McInerney

Title: Hello From The Gillespies
Author: Monica McInerney
Publisher:  NAL Trade (November 4 2014)
ISBN: 9780451466723
Pages: 624 pages
How We Read It: eARC
Genre: women's fiction, contemporary
Our Rating: 2 cups 


For the past thirty-three years, Angela Gillespie has sent to friends and family around the world an end-of-the-year letter titled “Hello from the Gillespies.” It’s always been cheery and full of good news. This year, Angela surprises herself—she tells the truth....

The Gillespies are far from the perfect family that Angela has made them out to be. Her husband is coping badly with retirement. Her thirty-two-year-old twins are having career meltdowns. Her third daughter, badly in debt, can’t stop crying. And her ten-year-old son spends more time talking to his imaginary friend than to real ones.

Without Angela, the family would fall apart. But when Angela is taken away from them in a most unexpected manner, the Gillespies pull together—and pull themselves together—in wonderfully surprising ways….

Our Thoughts:

Angela Gillespie feels overwhelmed. She is a wife and mother on an outback Australian sheep station that after too many years of drought no longer has any sheep. She worries about her four children who each have their own (largely self-inflicted) dilemmas. She worries about her relationship with her husband which seems to be growing increasingly distant. She endures the strain of trying to hold it all together. As a result of all the stress, she not only suffers from headaches, but also indulges in an imagined fantasy life as a means to escape from it all.

“I seem to be yearning for something all the time. For everything to be different. To be a different person in some way. To go back and start again, somehow make things better, make the right choices.”

“I just think if I could press a pause button for a while, have some time to myself, a little peace, a lot of quiet, time to reflect, I would be a much better mother, a much better wife, a much better person. I think I just urgently need a little bit of time off from worrying about everything, from being me, all day, every day, months and years on end. Is that too much to ask? Is that selfish of me?”

In a moment of frustration, instead of composing her usual ‘sunny’ Christmas letter, she lays it all out and ‘tells it like it is’ – never intending for this version of the letter to actually be sent out, of course. And, of course, it accidentally DOES get sent, leading to all sorts of upset and fallout.

Then, before the dust settles from the revelations of the brutally honest letter, circumstances occur that do indeed allow her to press that pause button, but not at all in the way in which she imagined. In the aftermath of these events, her family has to learn to pull together and cope with things without her guiding hand, and they make some interesting discoveries along the way.

At the beginning of this tale we were engaged by Angela’s plight, sympathetic to her feelings of discontent. We could relate to that overwhelmed feeling, the longing for a break, the desire for a little 'me time'. The whole idea of the mistakenly sent letter, with all of the resultant consequences, held great potential, too. However, as we read on we were disappointed.

This is a long book, and while the style is easy reading, it needed far more editing. There is a great deal of repetition within the story, and we found ourselves skipping page after page of unnecessary dialogue. There are worthy life lessons illustrated (such as ‘be careful what you wish for’) but they begin to get lost in the endless repetition. Some aspects don't feel completely believable either. While not entirely unlikable, the characters of the grown children come across as quite immature for their ages, and the enormous amount of family drama eventually gets to be a bit much. The story overall is pleasant enough, but it plays out too predictably, leading up to a neat and conveniently 'perfect' conclusion. There are no real surprises here, and this story could have been just as effectively (and more engagingly) told in many fewer pages.

Based on her previous novels, we will certainly read future releases from McInerney; however, we do not feel this book is her strongest effort, and it definitely could be improved by heavier editing.

 Our Rating:
This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.