10 December 2013

Tuesday's Review: Hell Gate by Elizabeth Massie

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for my review

Genre: Horror
Page Count: 251
List Price:  Paperback $16.99
                Digital $4.99
Publication Date: August 30, 2013
Publisher: DarkFuse

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In her novel Hell Gate, Elizabeth Massie tells a riveting story that defies the boundaries in many ways.  In fact, it took me a while to decide what genre to list for it.  The fact that it is set in 1909 on Coney Island might make it Historical Fiction. The murders and police investigation might indicate a Mystery or Police Procedural.  The fact that the main character has "the sight" brings in an element of the Paranormal genre.  In the end, it was the overall feeling of a good Horror story that won out, though.  

With respect to her depection of Coney Island in the early 1900s,  Massie certainly did her research.   Her descriptions of the sights, sounds, smells, and even tastes, made me feel like I was really there experiencing the thrills and chills of the area.   I also enjoyed the flashbacks of Suzanne's early life with her mother and her life in the boarding school.  She was able to describe Suzanne's feelings of confusion perfectly and use them to help illustrate the recurring theme of societies fear of the unusual.  This theme was also illustrated with the treatment Suzanne received from the police as she helped with their investigation, and the treatment that Citie received when he tried to spend time with Suzanne.  Other than its usefulness in this way, I felt that the mystery part of the story was the weakest.  This is the only place where the story faltered for me, and I was disappointed that there wasn't more to it.

The best part of the story overall, though, was the horror story line.  I thought that Massie's characterization of  the girls in the boarding school was fantastic.  I thought she did an excellent job of  weaving the undercurrent of horror and evil through this story.  It both scared and disturbed me, which is what I expect from a good horror story line.   The icing on the cake for this story was the way she lead the reader to the eventual conclusion.  Her use of subterfuge and slight of hand were wonderful and the unexpected ending left me feeling pleasantly surprised.  

I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone who likes a good horror story with a historical undertone. It was definitely well worth the read. 

04 December 2013

Tuesday's Review: Unseen by Karen Slaughter

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for my review. 

Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Page Count: 400
List Price: Hardcover - $27.00
               Digital Edition - $10.99
Publication Date: July 2, 2013
Publisher: Delacorte Press

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

What could be better than a series of thrillers written by an author with the last name Slaughter.  When I first came across her Grant County series, I was amazed at how apropos the authors name was.  As that series unfolded, Karin Slaughter solidified herself as one of my favorite thriller authors.  You know the kind, the ones whose next book you eagerly await, and whose books you know you will read without hesitation.  You just know that they are going to deliver a top notch product and that they will not disappoint you.  As I read each book in the Grant County series I fell more and more in love with Slaughter's characters and writing.  I was hugely disappointed, then, to find out that the series was coming to an end.  I should have known that the author wouldn't leave me hanging.  In fact, Slaughter was astute enough to realize that a small Georgia town would not be able to sustain the level of crime necessary to support an ongoing series.  What she did to overcome this problem, is begin a new series with a change of venue and a more appropriate organization as the focal point.  Enter Will Trent, an investigator for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation centered in Atlanta.  The switch to Atlanta allowed for a venue more acceptable for the level and type of crime needed to keep the series viable.  The focus on the GBI allowed for future changes in location, keeping the series from stagnating.  What was even more amazing about these changes is, after establishing her new central character, she seamlessly combined the new series with the Grant County series, making this fan happier than ever.  

 Unseen is listed as the 7th book in Karin Slaughter's Will Trent mystery/thriller series, although it is actually the latest in the series of books that combines both the Grant County characters and the Atlanta characters. 
As the book begins, we find Will working on an undercover assignment in Macon, Georgia. Interestingly enough, Macon just happens to be where our old friend Lena Adams has settled after she left Grant County. Things begin to heat up as Will and Lena's paths cross.  As any fan of the series knows, if Lena is involved, there is bound to be plenty of trouble.  This book is no different in that respect, and as the story continues, Will and Lena's seemingly unrelated story lines merge, though not necessarily in the way that I expected.  Slaughter is a master in the use of twist and turns in the plot of her stories, and many of her books contain those "Ah Ha," moments that make a good mystery so much fun to read.  Her stories are action packed, and although there is violence and evil, as all good thrillers must have, it is not over the top or gratuitous, just the right level of both to make the story believable.  

One of the things that I have come to love the most about Slaughter's books are her characters.  Slaughter's characters are all undeniably human with all the complexity that suggests.  In fact, reading this book was like going home for a visit and getting caught up with family and friends.  You know they are going to make you laugh, or shake you head in wonder when they make a decision that doesn't seem to make sense.  I found myself, once again, being amazed by their actions, yelling at them when I could see they were making the wrong decision, crying with them, celebrating with them, and in the end, feeling like they haven't changed a bit.  Will is still a troubled soul, Sara is still too nice, Lena is still clueless about what really matters, Faith is still trying to hold them all together, and Amanda was still the ball buster I have come to count on. I was glad that Angie did not make an appearance in this book, but I am willing to bet that she is not far away and will make her presence known in an upcoming book.  

If you are a fan of the mystery - suspense - thriller genre, I cannot recommend these books highly enough.  As series go, both the Grant County books and the Atlanta books are top notch, and as mystery/thrillers go, they are among my favorites.   If you are a fan of Karin Slaughter and have read the other books in her series, then I am probably preaching to the choir.  If you have not, I recommend that you start with the Grant County books to get the background of the characters from that series, and continue with the Will Trent books, where Slaughter really comes in to her own.    

21 November 2013

Thursday's Review: Forgive Me Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

A copy of this book was provided by the Publisher through Netgalley in exchange for a review

Publisher: Little, Brown and Co. 
Publication Date: August 13, 2013
List Price: Print - $18.00
               Digital - $9.99 - $8.99
Genre: Young Adult
Length: 278 pages
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. 

I have to admit, my first thought when I finished this book was, "hmmm, that was interesting."  In fact, I wasn't really sure what I was going to rate it, much less how I was going to review it.  The one thing that I knew was that it was different from any other book I have ever read.  In the two weeks since I finished the book, it hasn't gotten any easier to define my feelings, except to say that this was a book of contrasts for me.  It was filled with moments of clarity and confusion, profound quotes and wasted words, important insights and trite excuses and a jumbled mass of Leonard's present and past.  

Perhaps it is easiest to start with an overview of the story. It is Leonard Peacock's birthday, and for his birthday he has decided to kill his former best friend, Asher Beal, and then himself.  Before he can do that, though, he has a present to give to the 4 people that he considers the most important in his life.  Sounds straightforward, doesn't it?  But nothing about this book is straightforward.  Not the writing style that Quick uses, not the motivations of the characters, and certainly not the mind of Leonard Peacock.  To say that Leonard is damaged goods is an understatement.  From the beginning it is apparent that he is one of those kids in high school that just don't fit in anywhere, but the why is a lot less clear.  As Leonard tells his story, we are given a lot of the events in his life that led to this point.  What we don't get much of is the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of the characters that lead to these events. 

One of the most interesting things about this book was the writing style that Matthew Quick used to tell the story.  The basic events of the story are told by Leonard in narrative form.  As such, this part of the book does not give much insight into what the characters are thinking or feeling.  We are treated to the inner workings of Leonard's mind, though, in the form of footnotes to the narrative.  These are mostly the rambling of Leonard's inner mind and, as such, they have a more conversational and intimate tone.  It is here that we get more of a feel for Leonard's emotional well being and state of mind.  Then there are the letters.  They appeared out of nowhere, leaving me confused as to their purpose at first.  In the end, I was left wondering whether all these contrasting story devices and the confusion that are their result are a the mark of an author who has lost control of his story, or the result of a genius who is using them to illustrate the contrasts and confusion of the character that is Leonard Peacock.  It would be easy to dismiss them as the former, but that would be doing the book a disservice, I think.  In the end, I found that using the various devices worked for a couple of reasons.  First, I thought they worked to show the different facets of Leonard's character.   Secondly, they allowed me to feel some of the confusion that Leonard's life had become and the conflicting emotions he had about himself. 

What I found most disturbing about the book, was the lack of awareness of any of the adults in Leonard's life.  In fact, of all of the adults that we encounter in the story, only one seems to have any idea that things in Leonard's life are about to spin out of control.  The rest of the adults, from Leonard's absentee mother on down through the school administrators and teachers, seem determined to let Leonard down.  The ones that are not incredibly self-absorbed, seem bent on pretending that everything is normal and either there is nothing to worry about, or if there is, there is nothing they can do about it.  Admittedly, the story is being told from the viewpoint of a student, who is likely to see the adults as shallow and self-absorbed.  Even so, I felt that there was an important lesson for adults here. 

Bottom line, this is not a book for everyone, that is for sure.  As a reader, though, I found that it elicited strong feelings and for that reason I am giving it 4 stars.  Some readers may find the jumble of story telling devices confusing, or Leonard's attitude either too whiny, to wrapped up in excuses, or just not realistic.   I found that those items were the ones that made me think and ultimately to question what I was reading. Given the subject of this book, I think that is an important outcome.  My one caveat is that I was left feeling that this book could be either a positive influence on a teenager, or a negative one, depending on the reader.  I actually told one friend I was not sure how I would feel about my sons read it if they were a teenagers, but I could certainly see it starting some good discussions.   My advice as a parent is to look at the book yourself, and then determine if it is right for your teenager.   


14 November 2013

Thursday's Review: Margot by Jillian Cantor

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for a review. 

Publisher: Riverview Trade
Publication Date: September 3, 2013
List Price:  Print - $16.00
                Digital Edition - $9.99 (Kindle US $7.99)
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Another in the list of books about WWII and its aftermath, Margot by Jillian Cantor puts forth the supposition, what if Anne Frank's older sister had survived the war?  The author herself says that she got the idea while reading The Diary of Anne Frank for the second time.  She began to wonder, what of the other sister, Margot?  Did she keep a diary, too?  What was she like?  Apparently, after doing some research, she found that not much information exists about Anne's less famous sister.  This opened the door for a fictional story about surviving the holocaust with Margot as the central character.

It is 1959. and the movie The Diary of Anne Frank has just hit the theaters in the US.  Margie Franklin is living a quiet life in Philadelphia and working for a law firm.    But Margie is really Margot Frank, the older sister of Anne, who was able to survive the holocaust.  She eventually makes her way to America where she changes her identity, re-inventing herself as a Gentile.  Once her father publishes Anne's Diary and it is made into a movie, her new life starts to unravel, bit by bit.  

Once I picked up Margot, I found it very hard to put down.  The story alternated between the story of Margie, the girl hiding in America, and Margot, the girl hiding in the annex in Amsterdam.  I was amazed at what a great job the author did presenting the two sides of the main character.  I was particularly impressed with the way she was able to craft a believable story of what Margot could have been like while still staying true to the words of Anne's diary.  On the other hand, Margie's life in America was all fiction, but incredibly well told and highly believable.  I could really put myself in the place of a person in her situation, her survivor's guilt, the elements of PTSD inherent in her situation, the ever prevalent fear that someone would discover the truth about her, and the constant inner struggle to not lose sight of who she was.  Through the author's words I was transported into Margie's mind in the best way.  

What really sold this book for me, though, was the fact that it was more than just a "what if" book about Margot Frank.  To me, it was really an exploration of the after effects of the holocaust on Jewish Americans. Some, like Margie, immigrated to America and re-invented themselves to create a distance between their new lives and their old ones.  Others, like Bryta, came to America looking for a better life, only to find themselves taken advantage of.  Then there were the American Jews, like Joshua, who were removed from the worst of the war and lived a relatively unscathed life, which brought on its own brand of survivor's guilt. Through the exploration of all of these characters, the author was able to craft a story that should not be missed.  

This was definitely a 5 star book for me and will be on my highly recommended list for quite a while.  I have yet to come across a book that deals with these issues in such a readable and believable fashion.  


13 November 2013

Tuesday's Review: The Children of Henry VII by John Guy

A copy of this book has been provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for a review. 

Publisher: Oxford Press
Publication Date:  April 25, 2013
List Price:  Print: $27.95
                Digital $24.99 (Kindle US Price is $13.99)
Genre: Non-fiction History
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

So much has been written to date about the Tudor Dynasty that you might wonder why an established historian like John Guy would spend the time to write about them.  Given the numerous volumes, both fictional and non-fiction, that have been devoted to Henry, his wives, and their offspring, the Tudors as a family are still a fascinating lot who draw readers to their story.  Even those of us who have read extensively about them over the years are always looking for some new fact or tidbit.  Some new twist to their story, which you must admit, is like a modern day soap opera.  And at the heart of all of the family drama is Henry VII, the man who would stop at nothing to keep his dynasty alive, who would use any means possible to change wives in his search for an heir to the throne, who had four living children, but no two from the same mother.  What lover of family drama wouldn't be drawn to this dynasty?  

When I was in my teens, I happened upon a book about one of Henry's six wives and that started a love affair with not only the Tudors, but the history of Royalty in general.  Their lives were so different from mine, I was fascinated by the pageantry, the political intrigues, and the family dynamics that were prevalent in their stories.  I learned early on to enjoy the fictional accounts of their lives, but to rely on the non-fiction accounts for perspective.  In that respect I am always looking for a good non-fiction book on Royalty to add to my collection, or to recommend to those looking for good books on the subject.

 John Guy's latest, The Children of Henry VIII, is a well written book covering the struggle of Henry VIII to procure an heir for the Tudor throne.  At just 258 pages it is a relatively quick read on the subject.  In addition, it presents the essential information in a way that is uncomplicated and easy to follow.  For those reasons, this would be an excellent book for anyone just beginning to read about the Tudors.  For those of us that are well versed in the subject, though, there is little new information.  I did, however, like the fact that this book contained a complete section on Henry Fitzroy, and did not just focus on the legitimate offspring.  I was also fascinated by the author's suggestion that Henry had a rare blood condition that may have been the root of his inability to father more than one living child by any one woman.  I had never heard this theory before and wish the author would have gone into a bit more depth on the subject.

In fact, my biggest disappointment with this book overall was the lack of depth in general.  At times it seemed to me that the author was just skimming the surface of the subject, while I was looking for more detailed information on the children and their lives.  In fact, I felt the beginning of the book was more about Henry himself than the children's early lives.  The good news is that the lack of depth coupled with John Guy's extremely readable writing style makes this an excellent  book on Henry and his children for someone who is just starting to explore the Tudors.

On the other hand, if you are like me and love all things Tudor, or never tire of reading about them, there is a bit of the new and different in this books that makes it worth the read. 

07 November 2013

Thursday's Review: Little Island by Katharine Britton

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for a review. 

Publisher:  Berkeley, sold through Penguin USA, LLC
Publication Date: September 3, 2013
List Price:  $ 15.00 Print             
                $  7.99 - 9.99 Digital Copy
Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Family Drama
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Joy Little's life is changing.  Her only child has just left for college, but instead of going with him on dorm move-in weekend, she is headed to her childhood home, Little Island, to attend her grandmother's memorial service.  Although she loved her grandmother, spending the weekend on the Island with her parents and her twin siblings, Roger and Tamar, is not something she is looking forward to.   Given their family history, family get-togethers for the Little family are tumultuous at best and Joy just does not know if she is up for the challenge.  

Although basically Contemporary Fiction, Little Island falls into a class of books that I call "family drama" books.  You know the type, books where we get a glimpse of a family that is struggling due to a past or present crisis.  For me, enjoyment of books of this type hinge two things; how well the author handles the family's various crises, and how the author builds the characters and their relationships.   I am happy to say, Katharine Britton did a great job of both in this book.  

The characters in this book spoke to me right off the bat.  The oldest sister, Joy, is going through empty nest syndrome, exhibiting feelings I am very familiar with since I have two sons in college.  As the oldest sibling, then as a mom, her whole life has been about taking care of people.  What is she supposed to do now?  On the flip side, her sister Tamar is the youngest, and the one they "almost lost".  As such, the other family members have danced around her all of her life.  Now she finds herself as a wife and the mother of twins with no idea how to put anyone else first.  Finally there is Roger, the one that was always in trouble, the cause of the families biggest crisis, a crisis that still defines them, and the one thing that has always defined his life.  I though that the author did a wonderful job of developing these and other characters in the book, giving them the right mix of traits to allow me to empathize with them at times, and want to smack them at others., but always hoping they were able to break past the roles that defined them.   Thus it was the characters in the book, especially the Little siblings, which allowed a predictable story line to become unpredictable.
Another thing that I liked about the book was the way the author told the family's story.  While the bulk of the story took place during the weekend of the memorial service, part of it flashed back to 20 years prior, the time surrounding the crisis that defined the family.  In addition,  different chapters focused on the thoughts and feelings of different family members, giving each of them a chance to "tell their side of the story" so to speak.  It was a method of telling the story that really worked for me.  

Almost exactly two years ago, I read Katharine Britton's first book, Her Sister's Shadow, which I also rated 4 stars.  As with that book, I enjoyed this book's interplay between the family members.  What set this book apart and elevated it to that next level, for me, were the characters.  I am glad to see that Katharine Britton has not lost her touch with story telling, and that her characters have even more personality than before.  I would highly recommend this book to those who like books centered around families and drama.  

05 November 2013

Tuesday's Review: The Boleyn King by Laura Andersen

My copy of this book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for a review 

Publisher: Ballantine Books, sold in the US by Random House
Publication Date: May 14, 2013
List Price: $15.00 Trade
Genre: Historical Fiction/ Alternate History
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. 

There were several things that drew me to Laura Andersen's book The Boleyn King.  First and foremost I love reading about historical figures, especially when it is about Royalty.   I cut my teeth on books written by Jean Plaidy, Norah Lofts, and the like and recently moved on to some of the greats like Sharon Kl Penman, C. W. Gortner and Elizabeth Chadwick.  Like many readers in this category, I have read numerous books about the Tudors, both fiction and non-fiction.  As a result, a book that poses the question..."What if Anne Boleyn had given birth to a son who lived, and who eventually grew up to be King" certainly caught my interest.  I think that most of us who have read extensively about the Tudor Dynasty have wondered just that same thing at one time or another.  

In the first book of her Boleyn King trilogy, Laura Andersen introduces us to William Tudor, son of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, younger brother or Elizabeth, and the newly crowned King Henry IX of England.  As William's 18th birthday approaches, he is preparing to take over the running of the kingdom from his Uncle George Boleyn, who has been serving as Regent and head of William's government.  Add to this the usual political intrigue that always seems to surround the Tudor court, or most Royal courts for that matter, a mystery that needs solving, wars that need attending to, and a love triangle and you have all of the elements of a top notch story. 

In spite of it's obvious departure from the facts, I am happy to say that the overall representation of the people and events in  this story is true to the nature of the times.    She certainly did her homework, and her depiction of such historical figures such as Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth Tudor, Mary Tudor, George Boleyn, and others such as the Percys and Robert Dudley, are spot on.  Her ability to stay true to their natures while including just the right amount of embellishment was fantastic.  In fact, she did such a good job with her portrayal of Elizabeth that she, rather than William, became my favorite character in the book.  

Another place where the author was perfectly on the mark was in the way she depicted the Tudor Court.  Here again we see her research manifest itself in the inclusion of political intrigues and court machinations that were so prevalent at the time.  Here again, she did a masterful job of blending the truth with a fiction in such a way that the end result came off as totally believable.  In fact,she did such a good job here that even my reading friends that are sticklers for truth in historical fiction ended up liking the book.   as for me, I was transported to the court of Henry IX, and did not want to leave. 

As I said above, this is the first book of a trilogy, the second of which is being released today . I, for one, am certainly excited as I did not want this book to end when it did.  It was one of those books where I just wanted a few more pages, a bit more time with the characters.  If you are a fan of historical fiction, royal courts, the Tudors, and especially Elizabeth I, I would strongly recommend reading this book.  It will be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. 

01 November 2013

Blog Tour: A Nantucket Christmas by Nancy Thayer

Stops on the Tour

November 1st    My Home of Books
November 2nd  A Book Addict's Musings
November 3rd  Melina's Book Blog
November 6th  My Recent Favorite Books
November 7th   Griperangs Bookmarks
November 8th  The Book Bag


Publisher: Ballantine Books through Random House
Publication Date: October 29, 2013
List Price:  $18.00 Hardback
                $ 7.99  Digital Edition
Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Chick-Lit
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

 This book was provided by the author in exchange for a review. 

The Season is upon us.  No, I don't mean the Christmas season, I am talking about the "holiday book season".  You know, that time of year when authors entice us with stories stories built on and around Thanksgiving and, especially, Christmas.  This trend seems to be especially prevalent in the Chick-Lit genre.  Many of my reading friends look forward to this time of year when they can count on their favorite authors to put out new holiday stories that they can immerse themselves in.  It is a tradition that, for some readers, is as important in marking the holidays as decorating the tree and singing carols.  As the slew of Christmas books come out to celebrate the season, it can be hard sometimes to decided which ones to read and which ones to skip.  I have read, and reviewed several lately that are worthy of the Christmas read.  For me, the best of the bunch so far is A Nantucket Christmas by Nancy Thayer.  

A Nantucket Christmas takes place, as you can guess, on Nantucket Island.  Retired nurse Nicole and her new husband, Sebastian are two people who met later in life and fell in love.  Their Christmas plans include a visit from Sebastian's adult daughter, Kennedy, her husband, and their three-year old son Maddox.  To call Kennedy and adult, though, is using the term loosely.  Kennedy is spoiled, rich, self-centered, and, to top it all off, 8 months pregnant.  You can probably guess that combination is not one that bodes well for a festive, fun Christmas, especially since Kennedy views her step-mother as an interloper.  

Thus the stage is set for this "slice of life" story about the forging of new family bonds.   The biggest problem with "slice of life" stories is that they can be both lacking in conflict and somewhat formulaic. Especially in one that has only 145 pages.   In the case of this story, though, there was plenty of conflict to go around between  Kennedy and her step-mother and Sebastian and his ex-wife too name a few. And while the story was a bit formulaic, I felt the writing was good enough to overcome that aspect.  Besides, most of the reason we read these stories is because we know where they are going and we like where that is, right? 

In addition, this book was filled with interesting characters.  First and foremost, there was Kennedy.  Some may say that no adult woman, especially one with a child, could be so self involved.  To me that was the fun of her character.  I could safely dislike her, roll my eyes at her when she was at her worst, and yet, I could also sympathize with her a bit.  Nicole was also a great character and I loved the way that the author used her to highlight both the stress inherent in the season, and the stress inherent in the situation.  I also liked Maddox and particularly enjoyed his three-year-old antics.  Perhaps my favorite, though, was Snix/Pooh, the dog.  While by no means a major character, I enjoyed reading about his life and seeing things through his eyes.  

 Since so many of the Christmas stories out there center around romances (which I enjoy), I found the focus on the family in this book to be a welcome change.  In addition, at just 145 pages it was a quick read and I would recommend it for those of us who like the holiday story genre.  

30 October 2013

Tuesday's Review: Accidents Happen by Louise Millar

A copy of this book was provided through Netgalley in exchange for a review. 

Publication date:  June 25, 2013
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestier Books
List Price:  $15.00 Paperback
                  $ 10.00 Digital Copy
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The first thing I noticed about Louise Millar's book Accidents Happen was this was going to be one of those books where things were not what they seemed.  As the story progressed, that feeling was reinforced time and again.  Interestingly, though, even with the feeling getting stronger and stronger, I was never quite able to put my finger on exactly what was wrong.  

Kate Parker is a single mother who has seen more than her share of tragedy.  She lost her parents to an auto accident on her wedding day, her husband was murdered, and her house has been broken into at least once.  That is enough to make anyone look over their shoulder, but for Kate it drives her to extremes.  She begins to keep track of statistics on accidents in her head, pulling them out and mentally reciting them over and over until she feels in control again. In addition, she becomes convinced that she is not safe in her own home.  Both behaviors leave her young son, Jack, frustrated and afraid, and her in-laws convinced that she has lost touch with reality.  

There were several things that I really liked about this book.  First of all, the story line was interesting on several levels. I can only imagine what devices I would use to cope if I had so many tragedies befall my life in such a short time.  In addition, even though I tried to figure out what was going on, I could only place my finger on the whose, not the whys.  If an author can do that to me, I am usually sold.  And, although it had nothing to do with the story, I especially liked the author's choice to include the information about Frano Selak, dubbed "the world's luckiest man."  Little tidbits like that, that give insight into the author's thought process when writing a book, really peak my interest. 

The characters in the book were spot on, too.  Kate had just the right amount of dysfunction contrasted with her will to improve.  My feelings for her alternated between cheering her on in her recovery and wanting to slap her for backsliding or being stupid about something.  I'm pretty sure that is the gamut of emotions that I would have if I knew someone in real life like her.  The supporting characters were also true to what I would expect, especially her in-laws who are trapped between worry for Jack and exasperation at her antics, and her sister-in-law who feels trapped by circumstances, bewildered at the loss of her friend, and ultimately caught in the middle of the family drama.  

This is the first of Louise Millar's books that I have read, so I did not have any preconceived ideas of what to expect or where the story might lead.  In addition, this allowed me not to be disappointed in the similarities between this book and her other one, as some reviewers have been.  What I found here was a compelling story with real characters, and although the ending did seem a bit formulaic, it fit the story well.  

24 October 2013

Thursday's Review: The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy

This book was provided by the author in exchange for a review. 

Publisher: Broadway Books, sold by Random House
Publication Date: January 24, 2012
List Price:  $23.00 Hardcover
                  $13.99 Paperback
                  $ 7.99 Digital Edition
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I seem to be stuck in a pattern of reading books about WWII lately. Partly this is due the the fact that books about the war seem to be the current trend in historical fiction, but it is also due to the fact that there happen to be a lot of excellent books out there right now that deal with the war.  I, myself, have read  and reviewed several of them lately, like Chris Bohjalian's A Light in the Ruins and Nancy Kricorian's All the Light There Was.  The best of this list so far, though, is The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy. 

The Baker's Daughter is really a story within a story.  In the set-up story Reba Allen, a writer for a local magazine in El Paso, Texas, is assigned to write a fluff piece about the Christmas customs of the various cultures that make up the melting pot that is El Paso.  In pursuit of this, she decides to interview Elsie Schmidt, a German immigrant and owner of Elsie's German Bakerie.  Thus the reader is introduced to the second story of the book, that of Elsie Schmidt and her family during the waning years of the Second World War.  It is the similarities and contrasts between the two stories that pulls this book together as a cohesive whole. 

Although both stories are well told and interesting, the story of Elsie and her family was by far my favorite of the two stories.  I was captivated by both the character of Elsie and her story from the page that they were introduced all the way to their end.  I especially liked reading a story from the perspective of a typical German family during the war.  I though the author did an excellent job of using Elsie, her family, and those around them to show that there were Germans of all types during the war.  Like everyone else, they had their good and their bad,, were confused and conflicted, and missed the normalcy of their everyday lives.  It was their utter humanness that drew me into the story and kept me going.  I also loved the way that the author used the stories of Reba and her fiancee Riki to echo the themes of confused emotions and conflicted ideals that we saw in Elsie's story.  Perhaps this quote sums it up the best, "No one is good or bad by birth or nation or religion.  Inside, we are all masters and slaves, rich and poor, perfect and flawed." 

To say that this book was beautifully written is an understatement.  Sarah McCoy is a master at telling a story with beautiful prose and wonderful emotion.  Her descriptions were so well done that I could actually smell the baking bread, taste the rolls hot from the oven, and feel the cold of the snow.  In addition, I could feel the emotions of fear, happiness, despair, and longing that she described. In addition, the inclusion of the letters from and to the characters really helped to highlight the personal aspects of the story.   This book truly encompasses the best in historical fiction, taking you into the lives and times of the characters and settings and making you feel like you are right there with them.  

As you can tell, I loved this book.  The only thing that I saw as a drawback was the size of the font.  I know, that is a weird thing to comment on, but the font in this book was so small that I found it really hard to read unless I was in bright light.  The letters, especially, were hard to read at times.  In this case, a cursive font was used to make the letters seem more real, which is actually a plus, but again, the font was so small that it was hard to make out some of the cursive writing.  At any rate, this was the only thing that marred my otherwise perfect experience with this book, and I am probably making it sound more important than it was. 

I have seen and looked at Sarah McCoy's other book, The Time it Snowed in Puerto Rico, but have never quite decided to read it.  After reading The Baker's Daughter, though, I am excited to read it.  I believe that Sarah is going to become one of my favorite authors in no time.  I highly recommend this book for lovers of historical fiction, especially those interested in reading about every day lives during WWII.  

10 October 2013

Thursday's Review: All the Light There Was by Nancy Kricorian

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for a review. 

Publisher: Houghton Mifflen Harcourt
Publication Date: March 12, 2013
List Price: $24.00 Hardcover
                  $ 2.99  Digital Edition 
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It seems that the newest trend in Historical Fiction is novels about WWII.  There have been a number of books on this subject lately, and a lot of them are very good.  Nancy Kricorian's novel All the Light There Was is one of those books.  The story is narrated by Maral, and teenage Armenian girl living in Paris at the time that the Nazi's invade France and the Occupation of Paris begins.  Through Maral's eyes we see what it is like to have lived in Paris during the war.  Her character allows us to experience the fears and deprivations of living through a war torn country.  

I loved the way that Nancy tells the story of Maral, her family, and her friends in such a wonderfully personal way.  Along with giving me a really good picture of what life was like in occupied Paris, it allowed me to really become familiar with the characters in the book.  This personal way of telling the story reminded me a lot of the writing of Chris Bohjalian, who is one of my favorite authors.  Like Chris, Nancy is able to tell a story in such a way that you really feel that it is happening right there in front of you to people that you know and love.  

What sets Nancy's book apart from many of the others books currently out there that deal with life during WWII is the fact that Maral and her family are Armenian and not French.  This fact adds a dimension to the book that other stories do not have.  This is most evident in the way that her parents and the elders of the community relate this war and the actions of the Germans to the earlier Armenian Genocide that forced them to seek refuge in France in the first place.  I thought that intertwining these two historical events was an excellent move that gave this story a bit more depth than it might have had otherwise.   Along with the story of WWII, you got a bit of history about the Armenian Genocide, and you got a glimpse of life in a traditional Armenian family.  Three for the price of one, so to speak. 

My only disappointment in the story occurred toward the end.  There was a part of the story there where I could pretty much guess what the outcome was going to be, but the narrative took its time getting there.  As a result, I thought the story could have ended a bit earlier, or alternately, jumped over some of the last bit.  

The true measure of a book, though, to me is whether it entices me to learn more about the era or events presented and/or entices me to seek out more of the author's books.  In the case of All the Light There Was, it has done both.  I am really excited that Nancy has written two other books and will be adding them to my "to read" list.  In addition, I am curious about Armenian families and the Armenian Genocide and will be looking for more on that subject as well.  

08 October 2013

Tuesday's Review: Square of Revenge by Pieter Aspe

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for a review. 

Publisher: Pegasus Books
Publication Date:  June 1, 2013
List Price:  $24.95 Hardback
                   $14.95 Digital
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

The Square of Revenge is the first novel in the Van In mystery series by Dutch author Pieter Aspe.  Since I was not familiar with the author, I looked him up to see what other books he had written, there was a long list, most of them not in English. This leads me to believe that he is an established author trying to break into the US market.  

The premise for the book sounds intriguing.  A wealthy jeweler has his store broken into.  Instead of stealing anything the burglars dissolve his entire inventory in aqua regia, a substance that supposedly can melt even gold.  In addition, they leave behind a scrap of paper upon which is written four words in the situated in the form of a square.  Why would the burglars vandalize the shop, but not take anything?  What is the significance, if any, of the square of words. To Detective Van In and DA Hannelore Martens this crime seems to be very personal.  

When I decided to try The Square of Revenge, I wasn't sure what I would find.  From the synopsis, I thought this might be a "conspiracy mystery" book, similar to those of Dan Brown, Steve Berry, and Brad Meltzer, of which I am a big fan.  If not that, I was hoping for a good nordic noir mystery, based on the name of the author and the language that this book was originally released in.  In reality, though, this book did not fit into either of those categories.  It was more of a standard detective mystery in the style of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot books, or Nelson DeMille's John Corey series.   As such it was a good story with engaging characters and an interesting mystery.  For a number of the characters in the story I was not sure what their role was or why they were relevant until closer to the end.  I like this about mysteries as it keeps me guessing and that keeps me engaged.  I was a bit disappointed, though, that some of the connections hinted at in the beginning of the book were never really addressed, though.  In addition, there were several devices in the story that I felt the author could have given a bigger role, but which I cannot enumerate without giving things away.  It was unfortunate that some of these items were ones that I was most interested in at the beginning, they had such promise but turned out to be nothing, really.

I would still recommend this book for mystery buffs, but just be aware that it is a straight up mystery.  It is neither big on the suspense, nor would I call it a thriller.  As a mystery, though, it is an enjoyable and good read.  I intend to seek out other books in the series if I can find them in English.  I am interested to see how Van In and DA Martens progress and to learn more about their back stories. 

03 October 2013

Thursday's Review: Glass House 51 by John Hampel

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for my review

Publication Date: January 28th, 2013
Publisher: Bzff Books
List Price: $19.95 Print 
                  $ 3.99 Digital
Genre: Science Fiction Thriller
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 Recently I stumbled across John Hampel's book Glass House 51.  The premise for this story centers around Alphabank, the largest financial institution in the U.S.  The powers that be at Alphabank have picked two of their employees, Richard (no last name) and Cristin Darrow to be bait in their quest to draw out Norman Dunne, a reclusive computer genius who is a former employee, and a suspect in a series of murders of young women.  

What unfolds is a captivating story about power, greed, and control in the same vent as the classics dystopian novels like 1984 and Brave New World.  In fact, the publishing blurb for the book states, "Glass House 51 is humbly dedicated to George Orwell and Aldous Huxley,,,,,,They saw it coming; they saw it first; they warned us.  We learned nothing."  In fact, the story that John Hampel weaves in this book is a first rate story that combines all of the best elements of the classic Big Brother stories of the past.  Reading the book was like reading 1984, Brave New World, Animal House, and Fahrenheit 451 all rolled into one, with the addition of an exciting thriller threading through the story.  I loved the way that the author referred to these books throughout the story, but I also loved the way that he updated the themes presented in the classics to make this book relevant to the current times.  The addition of a thriller story line only added to the suspense in the book and really kept me turning the pages.  

The main characters in the story were also masterfully done.  I love books where the characters continually surprise me, and that happened in this books in many ways.  At times I would think that I had a character figured out, only to have them do an about-face.  This propensity to change and challenge my thinking of the characters really kept me interested to see what was going to happen next.  I loved the way it also blurred the lines between the good and bad guys, and kept me on my toes trying to figure out who were going to be the eventual heroes.  

Unfortunately, this book has not gotten a lot of either press or exposure, which is really sad.  It is a top-notch story with  well developed characters that deal with important issues for our times.  Is the story entirely plausible....probably not, but it has a lot to say to us about the information intensive age that we live in and lessons that it would be better to learn through fiction than through real life. Since neither of my sons were required to read 1984 OR Brave New World, I am going to direct them towards this book and hope that is sparks some great discussions among us.  

02 October 2013

Blog Tour: Starry Night by Debbie Macomber


Book Tour Schedule for "Starry Night" by Debbie Macomber

October 1st -  My Home of Books
October 2nd - A Book Addict's Musings
October 3rd - Creative Madness Mama
October 4th - Griperang's Bookmarks
October 5th - Jax's Book Magic
October 6th - Tidbits of Experience
October 7th - My Recent favorite books
October 8th - The Book Bag
October 9th - Deco My Heart Reviews
October 10th - Mary - Andering Creatively
October 10th - Mary-andering Among the Pages

Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date:  October 8, 2013
List Price:  $18.00 Hardback
                      $ 7.99 Digital Edition
Genre: Romance
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars. 

Believe it or not, Starry Night is the first Debbie Macomber book I have read.  I enjoy light romances, often interspersing  them between my historicals, mysteries, and thrillers.  Add to that the advent of the Christmas season, when I get in the mood to read lighter stories that center around Christmas, and the opportunity to participate in the blog tour for this book seemed like a natural.  

Starry Night is the story of  Carrie Slayton, a society reporter for the Chicago Sun Times, who longs to be able to report on more serious stories.  Her boss challenges her to find and interview reclusive author Finn Dalton,  with the promise of being able to write any stories she wants if she can get the coveted interview.  As a result, Carrie heads out for the wilds of Alaska in search of Finn.  What she finds, changes her life and perspectives dramatically. 

Starry Night is your typical romance book, complete with a smart, self sufficient female protagonist and the reluctant male love interest.  As you can probably guess, when Carrie and Finn meet, sparks fly, and not always the good kind.  The fact that this book is a typical romance has both good and bad sides to it.  The story of Carrie and Finn was thoroughly enjoyable and a nice break from the mystery/thrillers that I have been reading,  Here is a story where the characters are who they are supposed to be.  There is no subterfuge, and you can trust them.  Their actions are what they appear to be, and their motives follow the expected path.  I have heard good things about Debbie Macomber's books, and I can see why.  She has a smooth, easy writing style, her characters are easy to become invested in, and her settings are interesting.  Alternately, though, it is so typical, that if you are looking for something a bit different in the genre you will not find it here.  Luckily for me, I was looking for the typical.  

Aside from the fact that this book is typical in every respect, my biggest caveat about the book is that Christmas was really insignificant to the story.  The fact that part of the story takes place over the holidays is the only thing that allows this story to be classed as a Chrismas story at all.  The good news here is that Christmas plays such a small part that you could read the story anytime of the year and not be slapped in the face with a lot of Christmas talk.  The only other  caveat I had about the story was that I wished that more of the story took place in Alaska.  I love the less ordinary settings, and would loved to have had more of that part of the book. 

The bottom line here, though, is that I enjoyed this book enough for it to entice me to read more by Debbie Macomber.  I know a lot of her other books are a series, and I look forward to fitting them in between my other reading.  Many thanks to my friend Melissa for including me in this blog tour and introducing me to Debbie Macomber.  

27 September 2013

Blog Tour: The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for a review. 

Publication Date:  October 1, 2013
Publisher:  Penguin Group USA
Price:  $26.95 Hardcover list price
          $10.99 Digital Edition
Genre: Historical Fiction
There are a lot of books out there about the American Civil War, both Historical Fiction novels and Non-fiction histories.  Unlike many of the civil war books out there, which tell grand, sweeping stories of famous battles, The Spymistress, established author Jennifer Chiaverini's new Historical Fiction novel focuses on a much smaller, but just as important, story.  The book tells the story of Elizabeth Van Lew, a staunch Unionist, who just happens to live behind the Confederate lines in Virginia.  She also happens to become one of the most successful Union spies as well as running a vast spy network that encompassed people from all races and genders.  

There are two things about this book that allows it to stand up there with the "big boys" and hold its own with the stories of Micheal and Jeff Shaara, John Jakes, Ralph Peters, and Geraldine Brooks.  First, it focuses on a story that is alluded to, but not often the focus of other civil war books, that of the people working behind the scenes.  Secondly, the book is told from a female point of view, with a female protagonist, which is not common in the stories about the battles.  The fact that the woman in question, as well as her many associates, are true historical characters only makes the story that much more compelling.  In fact, this is not just a story about Elizabeth Van Lew, but more a story about the many people caught behind Confederate lines that were willing to sacrifice all to stay true to the Union.  

Before I read The Spymistress, I was only familiar with the work of Jennifer Chiaverini through her Elm Creek Quilts series of books.  As entertaining as those books are, I can honestly say that I am more than thrilled that she has turned her hand to my favorite genre, Historical Fiction.  The same vivid writing style and focus on characters that I am used to from her is also highlighted in this novel, but with it I got an additional focus on a historical period that is filled with stories to be told.   Both the women in the book, Lizzie, Mary Jane Bowser, Eliza Van Lew, and Mary Carter West, as well as their male counterparts, are all vivid characters whose personalities and traits really shine in this book.  In addition, Ms. Chiaverini's detailed and descriptive writing style allowed me to become entranced with the story being told, becoming thoroughly involved in the activities, places, and events that she described.  

 I have to admit, before I read this book, I had not really paid much attention to the idea of spying during the Civil War, nor had I even heard of Elizabeth Van Lew, Mary Jane Bowser, or any of the other characters in the book.  I will forever be grateful to Ms. Chiaverini for introducing me to them and their stories.  After reading this book, I am excited to read her other Historical Fiction book, Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, which has been on my reading list for a while.  In addition, I hope that she continues to write Historical Fiction books, especially those which tell stories that are not often covered.   She has also ignited in me a desire to read more books about the characters in this book in particular, and spying during the Civil War in general, as well as reading more about the lives of the women behind the men of this time period.  

20 September 2013

Blog Tour: A Seaside Christmas by Sherryl Woods.

An unproofed copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for a review. 

Publication Date:  September 24, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Price: $16.95 Hardback (list price)
          $12.99 Digital edition. 
Genre: Romance
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars. 

As I write this blog post, it is raining outside, which where I live in the Pacific Northwest, is the equivalent to snow.  So what better activity could there be on this first "wintery" day of the year than to write a review of my first Christmas based book of the year.  I am a newcomer to the O'Brian saga that everyone else has been  familiar with for quite a while, but if this book is any indication, I can definitely see myself reading more.  

In this installment of the series, Jenny Collins returns to Chesepeake Shores for the holiday season to help a family member with her annual Christmas play.  She is also running away from Nashville, where she is a celebrated songwriter, trying to escape from the publicity caused by her very public breakup with Country superstar Caleb Green.  

 For me, a romance book has to have something other than just the romance to entice me.  In the case of this book, there were several things that fit that bill.  First of all, the characters in Sherryl Woods O'Brian series, if this book is any indication, encompass just he right mix of compassion, family loyalty, and pragmatism, yet they aren't at all one dimensional.   Also, as a Country music fan, the country music backdrop was definitely a plus.  I found myself through out the book associating both Jenny and Caleb with my favorite Country stars.  Last, I loved the whole focus on the Christmas musical.  I am a sucker for musicals AND Christmas musicals in particular.  The fact that the author referenced all my favorite Christmas movies was not lost on me.  By the time the book was finished, I not only wanted to go to Broadway and see the play, but I wanted to dig out all of my faves, White Christmas, It's a Wonderful Life, etc.  and watch one after the other.  

After reading this book, I have decided that I need to go back and read the other books in the series.  I really want to get to know all of the O'Brians better.   If the book can do that to me, I am sure it will do the same for other readers.  That, in my mind, makes it a huge success.  

17 September 2013

Tuesday's Review: The Book of Secrets by Elizabeth Joy Arnold

A Copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for a review. 

Publication Date: July 2, 2013
Publisher:  Bantam Books
Price:  $15.00 Paperback 
            $ 7.99 Digital
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Reading Elizabeth Joy Arnold's new novel, The Book of Secrets, remineded me a lot of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.  This story has the same aura of mystery, the same twisted family dynamics, and the same ability to suck the reader into the story being told.  At least it was that way for me.  It was a solid story from start to finish that intrigued me the whole way through. 

The story is told from the point of view of Choe Sinclar, who returns home one day to find that her husband, Nate, is gone.  He has returned to the town where they grew up, a place that holds bad memories for both of them, and where she never thought he would want to go again.  Ms. Arnold continues the story, alternating her chapters between the present and the past.  Through this device we are treated to the mystery of why Nate would return home, as well as the tumultuous history of Chloe, Nate, and the rest of the Sinclair family.  Alternating chapters in this way is a device that really works for this story.  I flew through each chapter in anticipation of what came next for both stories.   And speaking of devices, the way that the author integrated books into the story was one of my favorite things.   Most of the books were old favorites of mine, and as each one debuted in the story, it brought back wonderful memories of my first encounter with them. 

 Another hit for me, was the cast of characters in the book.  Through them I was able to experience  the emotional impact of the story being told.  I felt the joy and wonder of love, the anger of deciet and betrayal, the pain of loss, and the fear of the unknown.  They were wonderfully imperfect  and real.  In the end, I felt like I really knew and understood each of them.  

Although the end of this book was by no means the best ending that I have ever read, I did feel that it was appropriate to the story.  I am one of those readers for whom the end of a book can really "seal the deal".  In the case of The Book of Secrets, the ending deftly answered all of the questions that I had been pondering throughout the story, many of which I had already surmised.   I guess that would be the only negative for me.  As satisfying and appropriate as the ending was, I had figured out where the story was leading long before the author revealed the last peice of the mystery.  What speaks well to the story, though, was that knowing the big twist did not in any way lessen my enjoyment of the book overall.  

Elizabeth Joy Arnold is yet another new author for me, as most of the authors that I read these days seem to be.  If this book is any indication, I think that she has a bright future as an author.  I would certainly read another book by her, and intend to recommend this one to my friends. 

11 September 2013

Tuesday's Review: Tristan and Iseult by J. D. Smith

A copy of this book was provided the author in exchange for a review. 

Publication Date: April 28, 2013
Publisher:  Quinn Publications
Price:  $10.99 Paperback
           $2.99 Kindle, not available for Nook at this time.
Genre: Mythology
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The story of Tristan and Iseult is a well known classic myth.  Although it is commonly cited to originate from 12th century French poetry, it's roots actually stem from Celtic folklore.  It has been the inspiration for many myths and stories since its first publication.  It shares many of the same characteristics as the Arthur/Guinivere/Lancelot love triangle, and in fact, many scholars say it was the basis for that story.  One of the most well known  versions is the Wagner Opera of the same name, which debuted in Munich, Germany in 1865.

J. D. Smith's recently published adaptation is a delightful read.  She has a way of telling the tale that makes you really feel empathy for all of the characters involved.  At one point, the pain and longing of  Tristan, Iseult, and yes, King Mark almost brought me to tears.  The story is told through chapters that alternate between Tristan's view of things and Iseult's.  I really like when author's use this device as I like seeing and feeling how the different characters feel about the same events. If the story had any drawbacks for me, it was that it was too short.  The book consists of only 220 pages and is easily readable in one sitting.

My one caveat, though, is that this is not a traditional telling of the myth, so if you are a purist, this would probably not be for you.  J. D. Smith has changed quite a few things in her telling, and left some things out altogether.  For instance, in her telling of the story, there is no love potion, no torrid love affair, no punishment, etc.  The story we see here almost has more of a Romeo and Juliet feel to it (but not quite that either).  At any rate, Smith's story tells a sweet love story full of pain, longing, and honor which I found refreshing and thoroughly enjoyed.  As it is written here, I think this is a wonderful book for middle school students who are just becoming acquainted with the myth.

01 September 2013

Upcoming Events - Book Tour of A Seaside Christmas by Sherryl Woods

I will be participating in my first book tour the end of September.  Here are the details

 "A Seaside Christmas" by Sherryl Woods
Friday -     September 20thPJ's Book Nook
Saturday - September 21st  -  A Book Addicts Musings
Sunday -    September 22ndMy Recent Favorite books
Monday -   Sept. 23rdCreative Madness Mama

23 August 2013

Thursday's Review: The The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England by Dan Jones

A Copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

Publisher:  Viking Adult
Publication Date:  April 18, 2013
Price: $24.99 Hardback
           $16.99 Digital Edition
           $10.99 Trade Paperback (to be released in US March 2014)
Genre: Non-fiction History
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I am a self proclaimed history geek.  Although my first love was, and always will be, Historical Fiction, over the years I have developed an intense love affair with many well written History books of the non-fiction variety.  I have said many time, on here no less, that a good Historical Fiction book should peak my interest and make me seek out factual books on the given subject to fill in the gaps and give me the "true" picture.  As a result, I am always excited when I found one of the said History books that I can not only enjoy, but recommend.  The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens who made England  by British historian Dan Jones is just such a book.   

When it comes to history, nothing is more fascinating to me than the history of the families designated as Royalty and their nobles.  If you look throughout history, there are not many families or dynasties that you can find who would be more fascinating than the Plantagenets.  From the beginning of their rule in England in the 1100s, to the splintering of their family into the Lancasters and Yorks, and on to the takeover of England by the Tudors, the Plantagenets have had a huge affect on the history of England and Great Britain.  To me, they are the dynasty that all other Royalty, English and other, are measured by. 

Dan Jones' book begins with the death of Henry I's son William and the demise of Norman rule in England. From there he deftly covers the history of the Plantagenet Dynasty, ending with Henry Bollingbrooke's takeover as Henry IV and the end of the reign of Richard II.  Here is a family full of heroes and heroines, crusaders, thieves, murderers.  Their lives had tragedies and triumphs.  At times they were both brilliant in their rule and careless in their mistakes, but through it all, they made England into a force to be reckoned with.  Dan Jones captures all of these events and their consequences and impacts, and he does it with a writing style that reads more like a good story than just the listing of facts and dates.  That is perhaps the best thing about this book.....it reads like a good story, not like a textbook.  I became so engrossed in the lives of the various members of this ruling family, that I would find that I had been reading for an hour or more without realizing it.  

In the end, I enjoyed this one so much that I actually spent the $25.00 to buy myself a hardback copy to read and re-read at my leisure.  I can say, that almost never happens when I am given a book to read for review.   Dan Jones' book, though, is the kind of book that I can see myself enjoying more than one, while also using it as a reference on the Plantagenet Dynasty.  My only complaint was that the book ended too soon, leaving out some of the more familiar members of the family.  Although I understand the reason to stop at the point that this books ends, I am holding Dan Jones to his "promise" of  a second book to finish the tale.  I am highly anticipating this second book, and only hope that he meant what he said about writing it and that it comes out soon.  This book is highly recommended by me to anyone who is interested in the history of the ruling families of England, but of England and Great Britain itself.