Friday, June 24, 2016

Review: By Helen's Hand

Title: By Helen's Hand - Helen of Sparta Series, Book 2
Author: Amalia Carosella
Publisher: 10 May 2016 by Lake Union Publishing
Pages: 429 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, historical fiction, mythology
My Rating: 3.5 cups


With divine beauty comes dangerous power.
Helen believed she could escape her destiny and save her people from utter destruction. After defying her family and betraying her intended husband, she found peace with her beloved Theseus, the king of Athens and son of Poseidon.

But peace did not last long. Cruelly separated from Theseus by the gods, and uncertain whether he will live or die, Helen is forced to return to Sparta. In order to avoid marriage to Menelaus, a powerful prince unhinged by desire, Helen assembles an array of suitors to compete for her hand. As the men circle like vultures, Helen dreams again of war—and of a strange prince, meant to steal her away. Every step she takes to protect herself and her people seems to bring destruction nearer. Without Theseus’s strength to support her, can Helen thwart the gods and stop her nightmare from coming to pass?

My Thoughts

I read 'Helen of Sparta' by Amalia Carosella last year and loved it, and in this novel, find she has presented a worthy sequel to the events leading up to the Trojan War. It continues right where we left off, after Helen was returned to Sparta by her brothers. Therefore it would be advisable, for maximum enjoyment, to have read the first book. 

It's difficult to review this book without revealing anything major, however, suffice to say,  I have mixed feelings about By Helen's Hand. Without a doubt Carosella writes well, yet I found the first part of this book to be somewhat slow and repetitive as Helen is constantly missing Theseus, fearing Menelaus and ruing the curse of her beauty.

"I would not give up hope, for I was certain that so long as there was a breath in his body, Theseus would fight to reach me."

What is enjoyable about both books is the full cast of characters - mythology in abundance! Carosella brings to life some of the most famous figures of Greek history - there is a great array of interesting characters. Overall, this is a book about love, friendship, family and fate (in the hands of the Gods). I find it refreshing how Helen is portrayed as more than 'just a pretty face' - Carosella makes her very real and unique, someone who is struggling against her fate.  

Personally, I also struggled with the ending of the novel because it seemed a little rushed, strange and not what I was expecting at all! I have to admit to feeling a little dissatisfied. I understand there are conflicting versions and it is mythology, but it just didn't sit right with me after all I had experienced through the two books. 

Overall, however,  I did like both books and think they are well worth a read for anyone interested in Ancient Greek mythology. They offer insight into what proceeds the Trojan War, providing real substance to the face 'launched a thousand ships', a portrayal of the woman who truly deserved to be known for more than just that. 

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.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Review: Nannyland

Title: Nannyland
Author: Jane Elizabeth Hughes
Publisher: 30 May 2016 by Pocket Star
Pages: 256 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, romance
My Rating: 3.5 cups


This delightful, romantic debut follows a sophisticated Manhattanite who trades her fast-paced Wall Street life for the English countryside, and unexpectedly becomes a nanny to the children of a widowed British lord. Who is as infuriating as he is intriguing...

Jordy Greene has it all—the high-powered job, the high-octane New York lifestyle, the powerful lover—until she’s suddenly forced to flee the city. Running to avoid false charges of illegal trading and a destructive relationship, Jordy escapes to England. There she finds refuge in a cottage on the estate of the icy Lord John Grey—a descendant of the Nine Day Queen, Lady Jane Grey.

The four rambunctious Grey children are in desperate need of a nanny, and Jordy is in desperate need of a purpose—so they plunge into an investigation of the Tudor queen’s mysterious life and shocking death. Amid flying subpoenas, willful adolescents, outraged aristocrats, and an unexpected attraction to Lord Grey, Jordy struggles to regain control of her life. In the midst of the chaos, can she find the kind of happiness she’d never thought to have?
If The Sound of Music and The Wolf of Wall Street had a child, it would be the captivating Nannyland!

My Thoughts

Nannyland was an entertaining read with diverse characters as the author combines a family story with the quest to discover the truth behind the history of Lady Jane Grey and her nine day reign. At its heart, however, it is chick lit - light, fluffy and not that mentally taxing. That is why I was so pleasantly surprised by the subplot surrounding the discovery of the supposed truth behind Lady Jane Grey. 

"Why would she risk her life to make Elizabeth the queen and not herself?"

The investigation into Queen Jane Grey I found it to be intriguing and well done. I liked how all the pieces of the puzzle were slowly unveiled and bought together - fascinating when compared to the accepted and understood tale of the 'Nine Day Queen'. I'm not sure how historically accurate it is, but it was food for thought and engaging. 

"Lady Jane Grey was a complicated girl, a product of her time, and her legend has lived longer that five hundred and fifty years! Doesn't that count for something? What matters is that she has meaning, a lot of meaning."

I did, however, struggle with the romance. If you are looking for a sweet escape, this is not the book for you. This is a tale about two people with issues that find a companionship of convenience. No emotional sparks here people - I found it all rather perplexing. Especially after the confrontational/graphic sexual violence suggested with her ex boss/lover. Strange. It was all about convenient sex. I found it very difficult to like the male lead, he ran so hot and cold. It was a little harder to believe they could ever extend beyond the initial 'all about the sex' to something more endearing and enduring. I found their sexual liaison had started too early and therefore their romance never really rang true for me - it was purely physical attraction on both sides:

"No, just suggesting a very pleasant afternoon diversion for two consenting adults." 

So if that is what you are after - a pleasant diversion - then escape to Nannyland. 

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.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Review: The Once and Future Camelot

Title: The Once and Future Camelot
Author: Felicity Pulman
Publisher: 26 May 2016 by Momentum
Pages: 276 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fantasy, historical fiction, mythology
My Rating: 2 cups


They would do anything to be reunited with those they love, even if it means traveling beyond the boundaries of the world as we know it.
Two women, living almost a thousand years apart, are experiencing the same catastrophic visions of the future. But these are not two ordinary women. They are descended from Morgana le Fay, and they have access to a magic that can stop this future from coming to pass – if they can trust it, and trust themselves.
Marie, troubadour at the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Morgan, a 21st century botanist, are two very different women. When their lives collide in a garden in Glastonbury, they must overcome the secrets that surround them and work together to save not only the world, but each other.
Both of these women have known true love but lost it – and both must overcome their prejudice as well as their fear of the harmful power of magic in order to be healed.
An astounding historical fantasy turning the King Arthur legend on its head, in the tradition of Mary Stewart and T.H. White.

My Thoughts

I love Arthurian legend, so when I saw this book, I jumped at the chance to read it. What an absurd book! This author tried to do it all and failed in my opinion. There was little engagement, with next to no character interaction. Pages and pages of descriptive thoughts and places - just plain boring. It was as if the author used the Arthurian myth and legends as a medium to just info dump. 

This was a story of time-travel, and ultimately the end of the world - but not in a good, compelling/interesting way! The end is just ridiculous.  Throughout the book, it read as if the author was unsure of which path to take - a retelling of the myth? a historical fiction adaptation? young adult fantasy? time travel? Choose please! I don't think the author really knows and therein lies its failure - disappointing as the potential was there but the execution was severely lacking. 

At no stage was my attention grabbed and I really did try but the writing was hard to get through and there was just so much monologue. WOW!  I finished it but I’ll honestly admit that there was a lot of skimming involved. There was no real substance to it, the characters were poorly written which was heartbreaking given the epic status of some. 

I don't really know what to say about this book. The plot was interesting but overall this book was very slow and I found it almost a chore to read. I was disappointed as it didn't live up to my expectations at all.

"And so I lay and listened to the stories unfolding in my mind, rejecting some while embellishing others."

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.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Review: The House of Dreams

Title: The House of Dreams: A Novel
Author: Kate Lord Brown
Publisher: 10 May 2016 by St. Martins Press/Thomas Dunne Books
Pages: 320 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, historical fiction
My Rating: 2.5 cups


An international bestseller, Kate Lord Brown's debut novel The Perfume Garden has sold especially well in Canada, where it was selected as Read of the Month for June 2015 and made it to the Globe & Mail bestseller list. The House of Dreams combines Brown's lovely, lyrical writing and signature interwoven past/present narrative style with an even more commercial time period and a fascinating real-life story.

In 2000, Gabriel Lambert is a celebrated painter who hides a dark secret. Sophie Cass, a journalist struggling to begin her career and with a family connection to Lambert, is determined to find the truth about his past and the little known story of the real Casablanca.

In 1940, an international group of rescue workers, refugee intellectuals, and artists gather in the beautiful old Villa Air Bel just outside Marseilles. American journalist Varian Fry and his remarkable team at the American Relief Center are working to help them escape France, but "the greatest man-trap in history" is closing in on them. Despite their peril, true camaraderie and creativity flourishes - while love affairs spring up and secrets are hidden. At the House of Dreams, young refugee artist Gabriel Lambert changed the course of his life - and now, sixty years later at his home in the Hamptons, the truth is finally catching up with him. 

My Thoughts

"When I think back to the war, my memories are all of the house of dreams. Our greatest joys and tragedies played out there." 

I am finding it difficult to reconcile my thoughts on this book. The 1940's story revolves around the ARC (The American Relief Centre) run by Varian Fry (known as an "America's Schindler.") His objective was to help well known artists escape from the ravages of war torn Europe. The 2000 story, revolves around Gabriel Lambert, who escaped France and has kept many secrets about his past hidden, but a journalist is trying to uncover the truth about his past. 

"They were risking everything to help people whose work had changed the world. Whose work will change the world ... I'm going to get every name on that list out of France if it kills me."

The House of Dreams book was nothing at all like what I anticipated. Told in the first person, from varying characters’ point-of-view, it was difficult to follow at times, you really need to pay attention to who is narrating without getting overly involved with stories on the fringes. Also, the shift in timelines made the writing somewhat disjointed and confusing. I did not really connect with any of the characters and I find this a little disappointing as the premise could really have been fascinating with Varian Fry obviously deserving this moment of recognition. But Gabriel Lambert's story I really struggled with. The further I read, I just lost all curiosity about what the big secret may turn out to be. It was so long winded at times, it was just plain boring

It is obviously a complex and involved plot but the author's approach with various character narrators and timeline shifts made this difficult to appreciate. In my humble opinion, the focus should have been on Varian Fry's gallant efforts and the challenges he faced - a standalone novel on its own. Bringing in Lambert's perspective and past secrets, well it just seemed like two separate tales - neither done well. Focus and simplification were really required here. Sophie and Vita were not seemingly essential and seemed to serve only as an opening into other plots. I had a hard time reading this book. It just did not engage me as a reader and it's a shame for the author presented snippets of some magical prose:

"My throat is tight, suddenly, at the thought of all the days .... that have gone by unremarked, and I lay my head against the door. The sand is running over the smooth hip of the hourglass."

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.