Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Spirit Keeper by K.B. Laugheed

After reading a long string of dense historical books I really needed something different. My wishes came true with The Spirit Keeper, an historical romance set in early America. Usually I like my romance served up on the side in my readings, but this lovely book was just too good to put down.

The book opens by introducing us to Katie O'Toole, the thirteenth child born to Irish immigrants, who is planning on abandoning her abusive frontier home and flee to Philadelphia. Her plans go awry when her home is attacked by Indians. She is taken captive by the attackers, but she is given a choice. She may stay with her family and be sold as slaves, or she can go with Syawa, a seer who believes that Katie is the Creature of Fire and Ice from his visions. Unbelievably, Katie decides to go with Syawa and his friend and protector, whom she calls Hector. Katie's journey is long, but she will learn much about herself in the process.

This book was an absolute delight to read. Katie, Syawa, and Hector are amazing characters. I especially loved Katie. Although she goes through many hardships in her life, these experiences have prepared her for the journey that she takes. She starts out being so unhappy with her life (for good reason), but by the end, even though she loses a lot in the process, she ends up being a happier, stronger person. Syawa, the seer, has traveled a long way to find Katie, his Creature of Fire and Ice, all because he had a vision that she would bring an amazing gift to his people. He always knows more than he lets on which makes him an interesting character. Hector and Katie struggle to understand each other from the beginning. It's not only the lack of a shared language, but also their vastly different life experiences. However, throughout the story they slowly grow to understand each other.

This book really capture my attention right from the beginning and kept it all the way through. I finished this in less than a day, it was just that good. Even after having finished it, I'm still thinking about how amazing it was. Unlike a lot of romance books that I've read, this one is about a deep connection between two people rather than just a physical relationship. I could have read another one hundred pages of this book.

(This review is based off an ARC that I received from NetGalley in exchange for this review.)

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Still Alive

Although I don't have an actual new post this week, I am still here. I figure you're probably a little burned out on books about Tudor England, so I decided not to do a full review on the last one I read: I, Elizabeth by Rosalind Miles (I will do a mini review at the end of this post). Hopefully I'll have a post of some sort for you next week, maybe something other than a book review if I can manage to whip it up. Also, I wanted to provide you this link to my Refugeek Pinterest board which has lots of anime/Doctor Who/Sherlock/video game related stuff.

I, Elizabeth is another historical fiction selection about the life of Elizabeth I. This one focuses on Elizabeth's two great loves: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and his step-son Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. The relationship between Elizabeth and Robert Dudley is, at it's core, a tragic love story on par with the likes of Romeo and Juliet. They were two people who loved each other deeply, but were destined to never be together. Later in life, Elizabeth was entrapped in a one-sided love with the Earl of Essex which had disastrous consequences for the Earl. This was an engrossing read. Even if you haven't previously read much about Elizabeth, I think that you will still find this interesting. 

Also, if any of you got the reference from the post title, this video is for you (also, the cake is a lie):

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Lady Elizabeth

(Disclaimer: I really am obsessed with Tudor England, and I'm okay with that. This book, however, is historical fiction, and I'm going to review it as such. I'm not going to comment on the veracity of any of the dates or events of the book.)

Elizabeth I remains one of the most fascinating and enigmatic monarchs of all time. Her ascension to the monarchy was unlikely, being not only declared a bastard, but also as third in line to the throne. Although she inherited a country torn apart by religious differences and devastated by debt, she left it as one of the most powerful and culturally advanced in all of Europe.

The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir focuses on Elizabeth's life before she became queen. Elizabeth was born to Henry VIII and his second wife, the much-hated, Anne Boleyn. At the beginning of her life she was the heir-apparent, displacing her older sister Mary, who had been declared a bastard upon the dissolution of her mother's marriage to the King. Her charmed reign as the Lady Princess was cut short when her mother was beheaded on charges of treason and her father took his third wife when Elizabeth was just shy of her third birthday. These are the events that set the stage for Elizabeth's childhood.

Young Elizabeth, 1546, by an unknown artist
I think that I would have liked this book better as pure fiction than as historical fiction. The actual events provided a frame-work for the story, but the happenings in-between and some of the characterizations feel off to me. Some points of Elizabeth's characterization struck me as odd, such as her feelings towards her father. While I agree that she loved her father, as all daughters do, her feelings are too simple. This man is not just her father, he is the person that ordered her mother to be beheaded and her to be declared illegitimate. Henry VIII held her fate in his hands. I think that Elizabeth would have loved, hated, and feared her father in equal measure, but that is not how it is portrayed in the book.

Also, without going into too much detail about the plot, I think that the book would have been just fine without the climatic events of what happens between Elizabeth and the Lord Admiral. While it did make for good reading, it did not seem like something that Elizabeth would have let happen. She was, even as a teenager, extremely smart and excruciatingly aware of her position and reputation. I do not think she would forget that in a fit of teenage fancy.

Overall, this book is very good. However, if you're looking for a book to learn more about Elizabeth I, I would look elsewhere. If you have some prior knowledge of the historical Elizabeth (perhaps even from one of Mrs. Weir's historical biographies) then this is a kind of fanciful what-if of her young life. And, if you like historical fiction, then this would be a good read for you.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Linked by Imogen Howson

The following summary was taken from Amazon's page on Linked by Imogen Howson:

Elissa used to have it all: looks, popularity, and a bright future. Now, all she has are nightmarish visions and unexplained bruises. Finally, she's promised a cure, and surgery is scheduled. But on the eve of the procedure, she discovers the truth behind her visions: she's seeing the world through another girl's eyes. A world filled with pain and wires and weird machines. Elissa follows her visions, only to find a battered, broken girl on the run. A girl, Lin, who looks exactly like Elissa, down to the matching bruises. A twin she never knew existed.

Elissa helps Lin evade the government agents who are ruthlessly tracking her down, but they're struggling to avoid capture, and soon Elissa is forced to turn to the only person who can help: Cadan, her brothers infuriating, arrogant best friend, and new graduate of the SFI, Space Flight Academy. Cadan is their one chance at safety. But Lin is too valuable to let go, and Elissa has knowledge that is too dangerous. The government will stop at nothing to get them back.

Linked was not the book I thought it was at first. Was I expecting a good dystopian YA read? Yes. Was I expecting it to involve a futuristic setting and space travel? No. Not that these were bad things, I actually rather enjoyed the sci-fi twists.  Although there was a lot of information to digest, I think that it was relatively easy to follow. However, the cost of all the world-building is that the action is a little slow to start. I, personally, like reading the world-building, so this was not a big issue for me, but if you're someone who needs to get right to the action, this might be a deal-breaker for you.

With the world-building firmly in place, the real plot can begin and it was...good. Probably not great, but certainly interesting. I won't get into the specifics of the plot as to not ruin it for anyone who is planning on reading it. However,  it does involve running from an evil government, a daring escape on a spaceship, and a touch of romance (always a plus in my opinion). Overall, even though it is a little slow and a little cliched, the plot is definitely solid enough to keep you interested through the book.

The are a few things that I didn't like. One was the relationship between Elissa and Cadan, which had some buildup, but ultimately felt rushed. Another thing that I didn't like was that the characterizations sometimes felt a little flat, thankfully, some of this is made up towards the end of the book.

In conclusion, Linked is a solid YA offering. While the plot can be a little slow, it ultimately comes to a satisfying conclusion. I am looking forward to the next book in the series!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Review of Tudor: The Family Story

The Tudors were, at best, and unlikely royal family. Their rise to power was part chance, part careful planning, and a copious amount of luck. The beginning of the Tudor dynasty was a lowly squire, with an odd Welsh name, who married a widowed Queen. Through the machinations of their children and, possibly most importantly, their daughter-in-law Margaret Beaufort, their grandson would eventually rise from relative obscurity to become King Henry VII.  The Tudor family would rule England from 1485 until Elizabeth I's death in 1603, through political and religious upheaval. Though they are often defined by some of the radical decision they made, the era of the Tudors helped shaped all the way through the present.

First of all I would like to say the I love English history. I have found the stories of kings and queens of England fascinating since I was a girl and read a biography of Elizabeth I. While I have not read a good historical book in a while, this has really re-immersed my brain into Henrician/Elizabethan England. This book is a wonderful complete view of the Tudor era, covering their beginnings, their rise to power and their fight to keep it. This is an interesting look at not only the monarchs of the period, but the people who helped them get there and the people who wanted them gone. What I most enjoyed about this book is the concise and approachable way it is written. Some history books tend to be extremely dense, but this book avoids that by exploring the personal, as well as political, lives of those involved. However, the one problem I had with it was the same that I have with many history books: with so many names and inherited titles it is sometime extremely difficult to keep all the players straight without an extensive cheat sheet.  

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves English history or anyone that wants to learn more about English history during this period. This is not just history, it is the story of one of the most remarkable families in English history. 

From left to right: Elizabeth of York, Mary I, Edward VI, Henry VII, Queen Jane Seymour, Elizabeth I, and Henry VII

This review is of an ARC of Tudor: The Family Story received from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.