'You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.' ~ Paul Sweeney

Friday, July 29, 2011

'Fallen' by Lauren Kate

 Now available on Kindle and in Paperback.

I'm sure you've heard the old saying, "Don't judge a book by it's cover."  This is a pure crap, if you ask me.  If you're looking for a book in the middle of your shopping trip, your visit to the local gas station, or perhaps the gift shop whilst on vacation, the cover of a book is what will draw you in.  Sure, the obvious choice is to select a book by an author which you are familiar with - but what to do when your favorite author isn't up on those shelves? 

This was the case for me during my quick trip to Walmart, where I was frantically searching for just the right pens to purchase for use on my sister's baby shower invitations.  One and done, I was headed out, when something caught my eye.  A dark beauty, her face in her hands, surrounded by darkness.  The cover called to me.  Seeing two more books with similar artwork standing next to her, I eagerly grabbed for it.  My weakness has always been a book series.

'Fallen' has a great cover - smooth but with a matte finish, with just enough mysterious cover art to force a glance at the back page to see what it's all about.  The brief (VERY BRIEF) blurb on the back only drew me further in and before I knew it, I was standing at the counter, paying for God only knew what.

These days, it's all about the paranormal romance.  Don't misunderstand me, I love a good paranormal romance - my shelves are covered in them.  However, sometimes too much of a good thing can start to look like the same old thing, just on a different day.

Lauren Kate's 'Fallen' is anything but the same old story.  The plot screams for a young adult audience a la 'Twilight', but I was sucked in as well, my age mattering very little.  Our young heroine Luce, short for Lucinda, lands herself in a reform school under mysterious circumstances.  Her classmates seem to be the general reform school types: thieves, psychos, and various ankle-bracelet outlaws.  With no contact to the outside world as part of the school's rules, Luce has to make the best of her situation and gain friends where she can.  The only problem is, she can't tell who her real friends are and who is out to hurt her.  As the shadows only she can see chase her and threaten her very sanity, Luce is forced to deal with the past that brought her to Sword & Cross boarding school, and feelings she doesn't understand for a boy who keeps her at arms length. You won't see the plot twist coming in this book, unless you cheat and go look at a review of the book online.  I won't ruin the surprise for you, reader.  It's not my style.  What I will say is that this is a well thought-out plot, with characters who feel real, at least until you figure out the twist in the story.  

The trick to any successful book series is to leave the reader wanting more, questioning the plot and what could possibly come next.  Lauren Kate answers one question with the end of 'Fallen' and hands you a handful more to mull over in order to read the next installment of the series, 'Torment'.  Once the first of what I believe will be many twists is revealed, there is a sense of urgency to figure out what comes next for Luce and those she has come to care for.  Will we discover why Luce is haunted by black shadows? How much danger is she really in? Who is friend and who is foe? The carrot has been dangled - but you can only reach it by picking up the next book.

While I enjoy the premise, one that is not that familiar to me, the way the book is written seems to be very slow-going.  The opening scene is confusing, and only understood once you get to the end, when the big reveal takes place, which wasn't really that big of a reveal, considering the reader is left with more questions than answers.  There were many different characters, some who seemed to be friendly, others who weren't, but none of them were exactly predictable in regards to whether or not they had Luce's best interests at heart.   

The style would definitely keep the attention of the intended audience, but basically failed to keep mine. When it comes to complicated back story, sometimes the moments leading up to a character realizing what the truth is can be too heavy in the first book.  I would have liked to see better pacing, if not for story, then at least to keep the reader interested.  I found myself almost skimming pages to get to the point, which I hate doing.  

I'm intrigued by the premise, which I won't reveal here because it would give the entire plot away, so I will probably pick up the second in the series in the hopes that it will get to the meat of the story and explain some of the secrets surrounding Luce and who she really is.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Reviews in process!

Halfway through 'Fallen' for my book review blog - Definitely aimed at the teen set, but still an interesting mystery... Looking forward to finding out the big secret plot twist!
I really must re-read 'The Tudor Secret' - I devoured it the first time and hadn't yet started the blog so didn't get a review done.  I stopped writing for myself when I began my Associates degree, so it's been a lovely experience to write something for my own joy instead of a grade.  
So many books, so little time.  

Friday, July 22, 2011

'The King's Mistress' by Emma Campion

Now available on Kindle and Paperback.

Before picking up this book, I'd never heard of Alice Perrers.  For those who are fans of historical fiction, this novel follows much the same plot as others within the genre.  A woman of modest birth is bound by an arranged marriage to a wealthier family, and then through twists and turns, finds herself as lady in waiting to the queen of England.  We all know how those arrangements turn out.

A merchant's daughter raised with an eye for business is wed to a wealthy widower twenty years her senior.  While Alice Salisbury and Janyn Perrers take to one another immediately, a family secret threatens to eclipse their happiness.  Dangerous connections to the royal family of King Edward III separate Alice from her husband, child, and home, thrusting her into a life she is not prepared for.  Her knowledge of trading and business brings her ever closer to King Edward and his wife, as Alice becomes a lady in waiting to Queen Philippa.  While the royal family vows to keep Alice safe from those who would harm her over the Perrers family secret, her husband goes missing and she is forced to pay the price for her safety.  The King's affections add to the danger at court, even as her obedience to her King turns to love.  Her new position as his mistress ruins her reputation and sets her in the middle of a political power struggle, where she cannot hope to survive without sacrificing her heart and her ideals.

However common the premise, this novel is different from the normal historical fiction titles I've read of late.  Alice is not bound to a loveless marriage, though she experiences the same suffering as other protagonists of this time period wherein obedience is expected above all else.  Emma Campion does not favor purple prose as many historical novels so often do, and instead allows just enough description to draw the reader into fourteenth century England and the life she has given to the title character.  One of the things I love most about this author is that she lets the country serve as a background for her tale without allowing it to overpower the story. The relationships created in 'The King's Mistress' had purpose, which I also enjoyed.  I pride myself on being able to see a storyline coming before it actually appears, and I was pleasantly surprised that the intrigue of the connections with each new character were not immediately apparent. 

In truth, I will likely have to re-read the book, mostly because I enjoyed the depth of the characters, the mystery that surrounded them, and the author's style of writing.  Many historical novelists tend to lose their readers because they try too hard to write as if they were from that time period, which leaves the reader checking dictionaries or Wikipedia to figure out what it is they've just read.  This is not the case with Emma Campion's style, which reads like the time period without making me scratch my head. 

'The King's Mistress' gives a voice to a woman whose life was fraught with danger, scandal, and heartbreak.  While she may have been the notorious mistress of King Edward III and the scapegoat for his heirs, there was more to Alice Perrers than what history tells us.  Emma Campion brings to life a beautiful, heartrending tale of love, loss, and the inextinguishable spirit of a woman destined to be misunderstood by those who condemned her relationship to the King of England. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

'The Confessions of Catherine de Medici' by C.W. Gortner

Now available for Kindle and Paperback.

A wonderful blending of historical fact and intriguing fiction, C.W. Gortner's 'The Confessions of Catherine de Medici' takes the reader beyond what history has told us of the queen who supposedly poisoned her enemies and used her children as stepping stones on her rise to power.  The author provides a thought-provoking read for those who know the popular historical account of Catherine, allowing the reader to see her as a woman who is a product of the times in which she lived, doing what she must to secure her family's survival and the order of her country.

Cast from her beloved homeland by the Signoria of Florence, Catherine de Medici is escorted to Rome on orders of her papal uncle only to see her wed to the second son of the French king, Francois I.  As Catherine accepts her new role as a pawn in her uncle's game against Charles V, she finds her new husband Henri d' Orleans handsome but arrogant - and controlled by another woman.  There are few she can trust to see to her best interests and, realizing this, she takes matters into her own hands.

Fighting her husband's mistress and the gossip of the royal court, Catherine is forced to do whatever she can to secure a place for herself and her children from those who seek a rise to power.  In so doing, her reputation is ruined and her family is left shattered during the war between the Catholics and the heretic Protestants.  Dabbling in the occult and striking bargains with those whom she knows are not her allies, the young Duchesse d' Orleans embraces the prophecy of her youth - "You will fulfill your destiny. It may not be a destiny you want....but fulfill it you will."  These words help to keep the fire of her determination lit as she does what she thinks is best for her children and her country.  Her struggle to find the balance between woman, queen, and mother leads to the slaughter of hundreds in the name of religion, as well as fostering hatred and loathing in her children for the fate Catherine set in motion for them by her actions.

The details of 16th century France are rich and encompassing, making 'The Confessions of Catherine de Medici' a book that immediately plunges you into Catherine's world and allows you to see and feel all that the queen might have experienced for herself.  Regardless of the historical account of her life and regency, one cannot deny that there are often three sides to every story - yours, mine, and the truth.  While we may never know the truth of Catherine de Medici, we can certainly gain a more humanistic view of her through C.W. Gortner's captivating story.