Sunday, September 16, 2012

Review: The Second Empress by Michelle Moran

Title: The Second Empress
Author: Michelle Moran
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pub Date: August 2012, Crown Publishing
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased from BN.com

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

After the bloody French Revolution, Emperor Napoleon’s power is absolute. When Marie-Louise, the eighteen year old daughter of the King of Austria, is told that the Emperor has demanded her hand in marriage, her father presents her with a terrible choice: marry the cruel, capricious Napoleon, leaving the man she loves and her home forever, or say no, and plunge her country into war.

Marie-Louise knows what she must do, and she travels to France, determined to be a good wife despite Napoleon’s reputation. But lavish parties greet her in Paris, and at the extravagant French court, she finds many rivals for her husband’s affection, including Napoleon’s first wife, Jos├ęphine, and his sister Pauline, the only woman as ambitious as the emperor himself. Beloved by some and infamous to many, Pauline is fiercely loyal to her brother. She is also convinced that Napoleon is destined to become the modern Pharaoh of Egypt. Indeed, her greatest hope is to rule alongside him as his queen—a brother-sister marriage just as the ancient Egyptian royals practiced. Determined to see this dream come to pass, Pauline embarks on a campaign to undermine the new empress and convince Napoleon to divorce Marie-Louise.

As Pauline's insightful Haitian servant, Paul, watches these two women clash, he is torn between his love for Pauline and his sympathy for Marie-Louise. But there are greater concerns than Pauline's jealousy plaguing the court of France. While Napoleon becomes increasingly desperate for an heir, the empire's peace looks increasingly unstable. When war once again sweeps the continent and bloodshed threatens Marie-Louise’s family in Austria, the second Empress is forced to make choices that will determine her place in history—and change the course of her life.

My Thoughts

With the excitement of this book's recent publication, I decided to go ahead and make The Second Empress the second book I have read by Michelle Moran. You might recall that I loved Cleopatra's Daughter, and I'm thrilled to report that I also greatly enjoyed The Second Empress. Of course, having now read another of Moran's books, I really want to make it a priority to read the rest of them. I honestly think that Moran is a genius at making you feel like you are right there in whatever world and time she is writing about. I felt that way about ancient Egypt in Cleopatra's Daughter and I thought I was getting an inside look at Napoleon's France. Prior to reading Moran, the extent of my experience with historical fiction was primarily Regency England and various periods in the earlier years of America. Now I will happily read any time and place that Moran chooses to take us!

In The Second Empress, by telling the story from three different viewpoints -- that of Marie-Louise, Napoleon's second wife, Pauline, Napoleon's sister, and Paul, who is Pauline's servant -- we really get a feel for the complete story behind Napoleon's last six years of reign and his inevitable fall. Fans of Napoleon may not like this story as much because he is certainly not portrayed in a favorable light (Moran makes note of this in  an author's note, as well), but I have never cared for him so I had no problem with his treatment. The amount of research that Moran has done is obvious, as well. Though this is, of course, a work of fiction, we are given a bit of a history lesson as well and those who are less familiar with the history of France and Napoleon will be easily able to understand what is going on and learn a bit in the process. Moran also uses many actual letters between Napoleon, his sister, and his first wife, Josephine and between these and the extensive research, this book has the feel of an authentic tale. But of course, it is worth keeping in mind that this IS a work of fiction and the bias that Moran chose to use against Napoleon will color the story.

Of course, tying this all together into the total package is Moran's writing itself. Her dialogues are sharp and sparkling, the use of factual historical detail is written in such a way that the story is only aided by it and not bogged down, and because of this it is nearly impossible not to get swept up in this book. I am looking forward to diving into one of her previously released books soon, and of course, I look forward to reading about when and where Moran takes us next!

My rating
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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Series Review: Inside Out/Outside In

Titles: (1) Inside Out (2) Outside In
Author: Maria V. Snyder
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian
Pub Date: April 2010 and February 2011, Harlequin
Format: eBook (two novels in one)
Source: Purchased from BN.com

Synopsis

The world of Inside is simple. Do your job, stay out of the way and don't dream of anything better. Because as every Scrub knows, there are no other options.

Until Trella—the Queen of the Pipes, as some call her—gets involved with a revolution that will rock her world….

Trella was just doing a favor for a friend—her only friend. Hiding an injured man from the Pop Cops seemed easy enough—though dangerous. But then she discovered that the myths of Outside might be real….

Being Inside's hero only left Trella with more work. Ducking those responsibilities, she continued to explore her stark world—and found something she never expected. Strangers. From Outside….

My Thoughts

I am a huge fan of Snyder's Study series and Glass series, and since I have come to love YA dystopian novels, I was excited to give the Inside Out series a try. In the end, I did enjoy these books (as a total package), but not to the same extent that I loved Study and Glass.

In my opinion, Inside Out got off to a tediously slow start. I had a very difficult time getting into this book until probably close to halfway into it. I'll admit that if I hadn't paid for it, I might not have chosen to keep reading, but the second half of the book and indeed, the second book in the series, make up for the rather lackluster start. The premise of the story was intriguing, but I think part of what hurt these books was that the characters didn't resonate with me and the story just wasn't particularly visually stimulating to my imagination. The synopsis above gives away next to nothing in terms of what the world is like in these books and I don't want to spoil it for any of you who haven't yet read these, but in a nutshell, it was difficult for me to visualize/accept what Snyder was describing.

As with most any YA book these days, there's a bit of romance, but compared to Snyder's other books, this one is barely believable -- at least that is how I felt with Inside Out. Perhaps if that first book hadn't existed, I could have accepted it a little more readily with Outside In. It's funny, despite the fact that Trella is not really a particularly likable female lead, I couldn't help but root for her both in her role as Inside's hero and her budding romance. By the time the first book ended, the story had really just gotten to the "good part," and so I felt more inclined to continue on with Outside In.

The pace of the second book is much faster and this time I found I couldn't put the story down. We get a deeper look at Trella in this book and I think it is really this story that made me more inclined to root for her and actually start to care. She simply seemed more human and relatable. As far as dystopian novels go, as a package deal, these books are certainly worth the read if you are into this genre. If you loved Snyder's Study and Glass series, be prepared for a completely different world, characters, and story. I think I should have approached these books as if I was reading an entirely new author, as opposed to going into it focused on my prior experiences with Snyder's books.

Individually, I would probably rate Inside Out as a 3-star book and Outside In as a high-4-star book. In the end, as I no longer add half-stars to my ratings, I'll be generous let the weight of my enjoyment of Outside In determine my overall rating:
4 stars

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Review: Love in Disguise by Carol Cox

Title: Love in Disguise
Author: Carol Cox
Genre: Christian Historical Fiction
Pub Date: June 2012, Baker Publishing Group
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased from BN.com

Synopsis

Can she solve the crime before they uncover her true identity?

Jobless and down to her last dime, Ellie Moore hears about a position with the Pinkerton Detective Agency and believes it's the perfect chance to put her acting skills and costumes to use. Reluctantly, the agency agrees to give her one assignment, one chance to prove herself. Disguised as Lavinia Stewart, a middle-aged widow, Ellie travels to Arizona to begin her investigation. When the need arises, she also transforms into the dazzling Jessie Monroe, whose vivacious personality encourages people to talk.

Mine owner Steven Pierce is going to lose his business if he can't figure out who's stealing his silver shipments. In his wildest dreams, he never expected to receive help from a gray-haired widow...or to fall in love with her beautiful niece.

Then the thieves come after Lavinia and Jessie. Ellie isn't safe no matter which character she plays! Should she give up and reveal her true identity? What will Steven do when he realizes the woman he's falling in love with doesn't really exist?

My Thoughts

This review is a long time coming, as I read Love in Disguise while we were on vacation last month. I'm not sure why I put this off because I really did enjoy my first read by Carol Cox. I was reasonably sure just from reading the synopsis that this would prove to be a fun book with adventure and romance and I was not disappointed! This is so different from the other Christian/Inspirational fiction I have read, given that Ellie also disguised herself as other characters and took the story in multiple directions.

Overall, I thought that Cox did a great job writing all of the characters. It was fun to see all sides of Ellie and watch her grow as she played the elderly widow Lavinia and the saucy redhead Jessie, though naturally I couldn't wait for her to finally be herself out in Arizona because I was curious to see how the revelation would play out. I was glad to see that Cox didn't blow the revelation out of proportion and everything worked out quite well once Ellie was able to be herself. All too often when identities are revealed, there is a lot of melodrama and seemingly fabricated angst over what is usually a relatively harmless charade and I was glad that Cox didn't treat Ellie's situation this way. Overcoming the shock of her true identity pretty quickly, I appreciated that Steven was able to see Ellie for the person she was.

As for the mystery itself, the story takes some twists and turns and it is not immediately obvious who is behind the theft of the silver. Now, I'll be the first to admit as "historical" fiction goes, this story is not very plausible, but it makes for such a fun fictional read. The Christian element isn't in your face or preachy at all, which is what I usually look for in this genre. The story did start off a little slow, but once Ellie is in Arizona, the pace really picks up and the book moves very quickly.

If you like to read inspirational historical fiction, I think you'd enjoy Love in Disguise. I am looking forward to reading other books by Carol Cox, as well!

My Rating:
4 stars

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Review: Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow

Title:  Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow
Author: Jessica Day George
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pub Date: January 2008, Bloomsbury USA
Format: Hardcover
Source: Received as a gift

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

Blessed—or cursed—with an ability to understand animals, the Lass (as she’s known to her family) has always been an oddball. And when an isbjorn (polar bear) seeks her out, and promises that her family will become rich if only the Lass will accompany him to his castle, she doesn’t hesitate. But the bear is not what he seems, nor is his castle, which is made of ice and inhabited by a silent staff of servants. Only a grueling journey on the backs of the four winds will reveal the truth: the bear is really a prince who’s been enchanted by a troll queen, and the Lass must come up with a way to free him before he’s forced to marry a troll princess.

My Thoughts

I really do enjoy Jessica Day George's books. She has such a way of storytelling that makes it almost impossible for me to put her books down -- of course, there are the demands of the rest of my life that prohibit me from reading for hours on end! Once again, George is retelling a fairy tale -- this time it is the Nordic legend East of the Sun, West of the Moon. I was not at all familiar with this legend before reading this book, but that in no way kept me from enjoying how George brought this story to life.

If I had to put my finger on just what it is about George's stories that I like so much, I think there is just some inherent magical quality to her writing. Perhaps it is that fairytale-like, happily-ever-after element, but her books always seem to resonate with me, no matter what the particular story is. I will say this book started off just a little slow for me, as I had to gain a better understanding of the characters and the Norwegian influences. But once events really started moving, this story was very easy to get lost in.

I absolutely can't wait for my daughter to reach an age where she can read George's books. I know I would have loved them as a Tween/Young Adult. They are so imaginative -- the stuff dreams are made of, if you will. One helpful feature that I wish I had known about as I was reading is that there is a helpful glossary of Norwegian terms. If you decide to give this book a try, be sure to keep the place marked for quick reference!

Overall, if you have enjoyed any other books by Jessica Day George or perhaps Shannon Hale, I think you won't be disappointed by Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow. No one quite reimagines fairytales like Jessica Day George does!

My Rating
5 stars

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays - The Second Empress


Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Well, this week's teaser is going to be a few sentences because two sentences from Michelle Moran's books just can't do her dialogues justice. :-)

This is an exchange between Napoleon and his sister, Pauline:

"I want you and my new wife to become good friends," my brother says.

"Oh, we'll be very close, I'm sure."

He gives me a sideways glance. "You will not bait her, Pauline. You will not treat her the way you treated Josephine."

"Beauharnaille was a liar."

"And Marie-Louise is a princess.  A real princess, with eight centuries of Hapsburg blood in her veins. And if it's a choice between her and you," he warns, "then I will choose her."

~ page 81 of The Second Empress by Michelle Moran

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Saturday Snapshot (09.01.12) - More Random Vacation Shots

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky at Alyce's blog, At Home With Books.

There are always lots of wildflowers growing in the mountains, though by the time we went, many of them were past their blooming season. I did get a few pictures of some on that eventful drive to Roan Mountain, as well as some other pictures I took around our vacation house. Here are a few pictures of flowers and more and the obligatory picture of Sweet Pea ;-)

Daisies are EVERYWHERE in the mountains of NC, but I did think this one was particularly pretty.

No idea what this is, but I thought they were pretty.

This little guy isn't floating in midair, but his web didn't show up in the picture at all. He turned out to look iridescent from the flash of my camera, but I don't feel like that shows up too well here.

Some kind of toadstool. In person, it almost looked like a stump of wood.

Laura appears to be ready for football season... TOUCHDOWN!! (It's hard to have a picture taken with her these days -- she just wants to keep moving, haha!)

Happy Saturday!!