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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

My review of Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn

About the book:

Thea is a slave girl from Judaea, passionate, musical, and guarded. Purchased as a toy for the spiteful heiress Lepida Pollia, Thea will become her mistress's rival for the love of Arius the Barbarian, Rome's newest and most savage gladiator. His love brings Thea the first happiness of her life-that is quickly ended when a jealous Lepida tears them apart.

As Lepida goes on to wreak havoc in the life of a new husband and his family, Thea remakes herself as a polished singer for Rome's aristocrats. Unwittingly, she attracts another admirer in the charismatic Emperor of Rome. But Domitian's games have a darker side, and Thea finds herself fighting for both soul and sanity. Many have tried to destroy the Emperor: a vengeful gladiator, an upright senator, a tormented soldier, a Vestal Virgin. But in the end, the life of the brilliant and paranoid Domitian lies in the hands of one woman: the Emperor's mistress.

My review:

Have you ever read a tragically beautiful story that made you want to sigh at the end? Even though historians will know the general outcome of a story because of their knowledge of history, Quinn still makes it compelling to read. I'd thought the only compelling author of fiction set in Ancient Rome was Francine Rivers. Quinn is just as good, but without the inspirational twist you'll get in Rivers's books. At the same time, while bloody and realistic, I didn't feel like Quinn went over the top in sensuality or brutality. Most of the story was subtle in regards to Quinn's description of Roman depravity and none of it felt titillating to me. I found that facet of this mainstream novel refreshing.

The cool thing about this story is by sheer accident I read the second book in the series first, but the first book in the series actually takes place after the second book. Then from the description of the third book, it follows the first book. Not to confuse you, but if you like to read things in the order that they historically occurred, then I would read the second book first (Daughters of Rome) followed by the first book (Mistress of Rome) and end with the third book, which I have yet to read. But it's on my must-read list.

If you've read The Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers, you'll want to get a copy of this book.  While the stories are different, the setting and themes are similar. The main heroine is a Jewish slave girl who escaped the Masada massacre, and the main hero is a gladiator. The author uses other characters' points of view as well. But there weren't so many that it became confusing. The pace of the novel excited me in an edge-of-your-seat manner. I had a hard time putting it down, but I have a full-time job, so when I wasn't working, or exhausted, I picked up this book to read. I am now a fan of Kate Quin and will be reading more of her books in the future. If you love Roman history, you'll want to read this book.

Mistress of Rome was published by Berkley Books and released in 2010. This was Kate Quinn's debut novel.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

My review of Daughters of Rome by Kate Quinn

About the book:

A.D. 69. Nero is dead.

The Roman Empire is up for the taking. With bloodshed spilling out of the palace and into the streets of Rome, chaos has become the status quo. The Year of Four Emperors will change everything—especially the lives of two sisters with a very personal stake in the outcome….

Elegant and ambitious, Cornelia embodies the essence of the perfect Roman wife. She lives to one day see her loyal husband as Emperor. Her sister, Marcella, is more withdrawn, content to witness history rather than make it. Even so, Marcella has her share of distinguished suitors, from a cutthroat contender for the throne to a politician’s son who swears that someday he will be Emperor.

But when a bloody coup turns their world upside down, Cornelia and Marcella—along with their cousins, one a collector of husbands and lovers, the other a horse-mad beauty with no interest in romance—must maneuver carefully just to stay alive. As Cornelia tries to pick up the pieces of her shattered dreams, Marcella discovers a hidden talent for influencing the most powerful men in Rome. In the end, though, there can only be one Emperor … and one Empress.

My review:

I love reading novels set in first century Rome. The culture of that day seems almost parallel to the 21st century. While it isn't the first book I've read about the Roman Empire, it's one of the better novels set during that time period. This novel had very realistic characters, and while there was some sexual tension at times, they fit the story and was not there to merely titillate the reader. It reminded me of how much I adore Francine Rivers's writing style and how much I enjoyed reading her "Mark of the Lion" series back in the mid 1990s.

The unique thing about this novel was that it took place during the year of the four emperors. I've read historical accounts of the ancient Roman Empire and some were set around 69 AD, but this is the first book I've read that fictionalized true life events. The perspectives shifted between four cousins, all women, who grew up together and were from prominent families. The politics of the time period were intriguing as were the parties (where people ate so much they had to throw up in order to indulge in more food,) chariot races and gambling, arranged marriages for political gain, and hostile takeovers by people craving power. I found it interesting how fickle the people of Rome were, but how they also had to shift alliances each time their was a new Emperor in Rome.

This author put and interesting fictional twist to this historical tale and suggested that a scheming woman may have been behind the changes in power. I found that intriguing, especially how in the end she was caught in a trap of her own making. That part of the theme made me think of monarchies in England and how people were often afraid for their lives when the king changed from one blood line to the next. Those were intriguing times as well.

I loved all of the characters in this novel and the tension in their relationships. I also loved how women had power, and at the same time, they were ruled by men. A woman's only hope for true happiness would be to have a good man in their life because an evil man could use and abuse them and other than possibly getting divorced, there wasn't much they could do to protect themselves. Anyway, I love this author's voice and style, I got a copy of Mistress of Rome, which is her first book, and plan to read that next. The back cover description sounds like my kind of story. 

Daughters of Rome was published by Berkley Books and released in 2011. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

My review of Hugh and Bess: A Love Story by Susan Higgbotham

About the book:

Forced to marry Hugh le Despenser, the son and grandson of disgraced traitors, Bess de Montacute, just 13 years old, is appalled at his less-than-desirable past. Meanwhile, Hugh must give up the woman he really loves in order to marry the reluctant Bess. Far apart in age and haunted by the past, can Hugh and Bess somehow make their marriage work?
Just as walls break down and love begins to grow, the merciless plague endangers all whom the couple holds dear, threatening the life and love they have built.

Award-winning author Susan Higginbotham's impeccable research will delight avid historical fiction readers, and her enchanting characters will surely capture every reader's heart. Fans of her first novel, The Traitor's Wife, will be thrilled to find that this story follows the next generation of the Despenser family.

My review:

I am not sure when or where I got this book, but I decided to pick it out of my collection and read it this month. I really enjoyed the way this novel was written. The author's voice is very unique and as a result I couldn't help but continue reading until I got to the end. There was never a dull moment or any parts that dragged or felt melodramatic. I fully "escaped" into Bess and Hughs' world in my mind and it was a delight! It was a combination of history and love story mixed together. The closest thing I can compare it with is a story by Alexa Schnee called Shakespeare's Lady. You can find my review of Alexa's book on Goodreads HERE.

I loved the historical aspects of the novels and the way the author described the trials they faced during that time. If your family was wealthy, a spouse was chosen for you. Typically it was to increase the other family's estate. Bess was so young and so against the marriage at first, but she did as she was told. Like many mail-order-bride stories, she had a period of time to get to know him before their relationship became physical, mainly due to her young age. I enjoyed experiencing the budding love between them and how they grew to respect each other. The time period was during the era when the Black Death (or Pestilence) was ripping through Europe, though that part didn't really hit them until the last quarter of the story. All in all a very intriguing and compulsively readable book. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Anything that can pull me in to where I enter a different time in my mind is a great book.

Hugh and Bess was published by Sourcebooks Landmark and released in 2009.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

My review of The Dreamer and the Cowboy by Debra Ullrick

About the book:

Born and raised on a ranch, Teagan Baxter has never felt like she belonged. She has no interest in ranching or cowboys. All she wants is to pursue her dream of dancing on stage. The one person who believed in her dreams was her mother. On her death bed, she makes Teagan promise to not let anyone or anything stop her from pursuing her dream, not even her father. Teagan is determined to keep that promise. However, she didn’t count on the handsome rancher from Amarillo riding into her life.

When Kage Jenkins hires on with the Circle B Cross ranch, it is with one purpose… to learn every phase of Colorado mountain ranching so he can buy a place of his own in Grand County. He feels an immediate connection to Teagan Baxter, but he refuses to pursue her because she was born to dance, not ranch. And he is determined not to do anything to interfere with her dreams.

My review

This story was compulsively readable and very well-written. The pacing felt just right and held my interest so I read it from start to finish in one day. There was believable tension between characters. Everything felt natural including their attraction to each other and their emotional responses to different things that came up.. Several times I was moved to tears and it may be that the heroine's emotional expression reminded me of other situations that I've experienced in my own life. Regardless of how it happened, this author had me in tears several times, but they were the kind that were rejoicing in the heroine's healing on her journey. They were not tears of grief or sorrow. The scenes that moved my heart were beautiful and healing. I dare say this book really brings out the author's passion for story-telling and is one of her best books. As soon as I got it I read it straight through. Highly recommended and worth every penny (and then some!)

This awesome novella just came out yesterday so get it today on Amazon HERE 

Monday, May 25, 2015

My review of The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

About the book:

Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun, learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake. Defying the rule of enclosure, Joanna leaves the priory to stand at her cousin’s side. Arrested for interfering with the king’s justice, Joanna, along with her father, is sent to the Tower of London.

While Joanna is in the Tower, the ruthless Bishop of Winchester forces her to spy for him: to save her father’s life she must find an ancient relic—a crown so powerful, it may possess the ability to end the Reformation.

With Cromwell’s troops threatening to shutter her priory, bright and bold Joanna must decide who she can trust so that she may save herself, her family, and her sacred way of life. This provocative story set in Tudor England melds heart-stopping suspense with historical detail and brings to life the poignant dramas of women and men at a fascinating and critical moment in England’s past.

My review:

This book is more like 4 1/2 stars. It reads like a "Medieval Mystery" (if there is such a genre) with the nun as the main sleuth. The tone of the book follows the other two in the series. I had the disadvantage of reading the first book last, which may have been why it took me longer than expected to finish. The writing is excellent and the author does a great job getting you into the character's head for the length of the novel. 

I had a firm sense of place and the setting enhanced the mystery aspect of the book. I liked how the author interspersed occasional memories into the novel to give you a better feel for some of Joanna's history. I love how it ended. If I hadn't already read the second book (I read it first) I would probably booking it to a store right now to get the second installment. All this to say, it was worth my time to read it and I enjoyed the authentic feel of the novel. The author includes resources she used to piece the historical facts together. She did a great job with it.

The Crown was published by Touchstone Books and released in 2012. You can buy it on Amazon, but do yourself a favor and start by reading it before the others.
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