Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tiny Reviews: And Only to Deceive and Dangerous Deceptions

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander

I really wish this book had a different cover. I also wish it had more action, but I still liked it despite these things. Mostly.

Main character Emily was pretty bland, but she wasn't offensive and she didn't hold back the story. She was just kind of there.

Her romances (plural) were both swoony and I fell along with her, but one of them is so very, very sad. Even though I didn't ever really connect with Emily on a BFF level, her romantic entanglements definitely held my attention and their will-they-won't-they was what really kept me turning the pages.

There's an actual mystery, too, but it took a backseat and was never terribly engaging. I did like all the focus on artwork and forgeries, but I could have done with less focus on the Illiad and the beating me over the head repetitions.

Ultimately good enough to finish, and even good enough for me to want to pick up the sequel (at some point, eventually. Probably). But not good enough for me to push the sequel too high up on my TBR.

Library book
Rating: 3 out of 5

Dangerous Deceptions by Sarah Zettel

Last year I reviewed the first book Palace of Spies and thought it was good, but missing something. I hate to say it, but things have not improved in Dangerous Deceptions.

In the broad strokes, everything is pretty promising: interesting historical setting (in the court of George I), a cadre of ladies in waiting, puppies, court intrigue, deception, and spies.

And yet, it all falls flat. Main character Peggy isn't quite dislikable, but she isn't my favorite person in the world (though her attitude toward the dogs was pretty off-putting). Her romantic interest is a dreaded artist (I rarely ever swoon for artists) and he's a pretty bland one at that.

The mystery bored me and I had to try really hard to care about anything (although I liked that card game scene, even if it didn't entirely make sense). Even the moments of peril and big reveals failed to grab my interest.

So why did I read to the end? And why would I read another sequel (because I probably would)? Oh, I don't know! There's something about this series that does interest me. I can't for the life of me identify what it is, but for some reason I actually do like reading these books. Maybe it's the setting or some of the side characters or the easy writing or the general premise. I don't know!

ARC from the publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 3 out of 5

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Series Review: The Tradd Street series by Karen White

Side note: I adore these covers

Own #1, Library #2-4
5 out of 5 stars
Special Shelf

I already reviewed the first book and sort of the second, but I ended up adoring this series so much that I really need to gush a little more. The Tradd Street series is, hands down, one of my top favorite series of all time.

Best book friend, EVER

I'll admit, I was a little nervous going into it all. I'm a character girl, and for a long time I wasn't really sure I could warm up to main character Mellie. I mean, she scorned the fully furnished historical house she inherited!? She even scorned the little dog she inherited!

Dogs and historical houses are two things that are near and dear to my heart, so I wasn't convinced I could get behind a main character who didn't appreciate those things.

But, I stuck with it because I sensed there was more to Mellie than her outward prickliness and scorn (anyone who makes organizational spreadsheets wins points with me. Even just saying "organizational spreadsheet" makes me sigh in contentment).

Thankfully I was right and there is FAR more to Mellie than meets the eye. She has reasons for acting the way she does, and I can totally empathize. The more I learned, the more I realized that all those things I thought I wouldn't like about her were actually things that made me like and relate to her more than ever.

Also, I had pretty much fallen in love with every other aspect of the book so I decided to stick with it. It turns out this was the best decision I ever made, because Mellie is a total kindred spirit, bosom friend type of character and she gets ALL my sleepover party invites (she's like the best friend who gets to come early before everyone else arrives and stay later after everyone else has left).

After my initial hesitations, Mellie reminded me a lot of myself and so I really connected with her above and beyond other characters.

Historical mysteries are the BEST mysteries
(also, inheriting old houses with lots and lots of expensive old stuff)

And what about all those other things I loved? First off, there's the historical house, or, really, houses because the series deals with several. Each has its own mystery, ghosts, antiques, and totally absorbing and completely satisfying historical reveal. Plus, I just love "living" in historical houses like this (secret rooms? Back stairways? Antique furniture with History? YES PLEASE!)

Another note on those mysteries? Usually I'll read a book and if the characters are great then I don't care if the mystery is only so-so. Rarely is the mystery as good as the characterization, but Karen White's Tradd Street mysteries stand on their own as worth it.

Think Rebecca or The Thirteenth Tale where the reveal is just as satisfying and unexpected as the journey. LOVED the mysteries! I loved the way the clues with doled out so I could sleuth along with Mellie and Jack but never actually guess the full details. I loved the way the ghosts were scary and sympathetic. I loved the way the final pieces of the mysteries clicked together at the end in that totally satisfying "Ahhh ha!" way like triumphantly putting in the final piece of a puzzle.

I especially liked the mystery in the second book. And the fourth. And of course the first. And the third was really good, too. So, yeah.

Side characters and everything cozy

Reading these books was like wrapping myself in my favorite cozy sweater with a box of chocolates and an unending supply of hugs and comfort. None of the characters are perfect people. They have flaws and vices but their imperfections make them lovable. Ultimately, they're there for each other in ways that made me feel so happy and loved.

There was even this character introduced in the third book that, when she appeared at the end of book 2 I groaned out loud and actually considered leaving books 3 and 4 unread to preserve my happy memories. That's how bad I thought this character was going to be.

So, I am absolutely shocked at how well Karen White made it work. She turned this stereotypically book-killing character into someone I actually loved. I couldn't imagine the series without her and I am so, so, so happy she is there. 

Karen White was also spot on with the Southern setting. Everything rang true and Charleston (both the city and the people) came alive for me.

And, of course, the romance

Talk about your slow burn! This is a total hate-turned-love romance and it takes several books to fully develop and all four to finally, finally come to that satisfying conclusion.

Unlike Mellie, I fell in love with Jack the moment I met him (or, I should say, I admitted to myself that I loved him). Like Mellie, though, I fell more in love with him with every page.

Jack is a funny guy who totally gets Mellie and loves needling her. He teases her quirks in a way that he's totally ripping on her, but you know he also completely loves those things about her. He respects her, but he is also constantly pushing her to break out of her comfort zone and reach for the things she wants but is too afraid to grab. He's completely protective, but he also empowers her.

Ultimately, yes, I love Jack because he's a great character who is great for Mellie. But, really, I love him because in his relationship with Mellie, he is very much like my husband.

Bottom line

I think these books have a ton of merit and will appeal to readers looking for solid ghostly mysteries and feel-good relationships. They stand well and each book is a solid addition to the series (no fillers here!).

For me, they earned an extra special place in my reader heart because the characters resonated so completely with me on a very personal level.

I ached when I finished the series and had no more Tradd Street books to read. There is still a reading void and I am desperate to fill it (so if you know any books that fit the bill, PLEASE let me know!).

Thankfully, the series ended perfectly well with the conclusion of book four and I honestly couldn't ask for a better ending. So if you're looking to start the series but don't like being left dangling in the middle of a story, I'd say go for it.

But, because I'm a greedy reader with a hole in my reading heart, I am so incredibly happy that Karen White will be writing three more books in the series!!

That are coming out starting 2016.

*sigh* This waiting is going to be hard.


Like this book? You might also like:

Click on the covers to go to my reviews

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Book Review: Queen of Fashion by Caroline Weber

Release Date: September 19, 20006
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co. 
Pages: 412 (really, 292)
Received: Library
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf

This is EXACTLY what I'm looking for

This is the kind of non-fiction book I can get behind! A narrative style that follows events consecutively and clearly unfurls the story just like a novel. Delving into Marie Antoinette's thoughts and feelings made her come alive as much as any fictional character and made me emotionally invested in her triumphs and plights.

And, yes, I did rage at all the raging parts (her shameful defrockings at her Austrian hand-off and coucher, the horrible aunts, the scurrilous printings, the revolutionary indignities and the sheer hypocrisy of it all) and I did cry at all the crying parts (MA's heartache during her barren years, her multiple mourning periods when she lost her loved ones, her briefly mentioned but still impassioned speech at her trial, and, of course, The End).

There was a ton of historical detail packed in this, relatively, short book (it's 412 pages, but really it's only 292 pages long. All the rest of those pages are filled with references, bibliographies, and the index). Caroline Weber did her research, and boy does it show!

But it doesn't show in a showy way where you're bombarded with disjointed facts in a way that gives the impression the author is just trying to show off all their knowledge. Not at all. Caroline Weber's approach is so easy and pleasurable to read. I cannot stress enough how this is a perfect book is for the fiction-inclined. 

A non-fiction counterpart to one of my fictional favorites

As I was reading, I began to highly suspect Juliet Grey pulled much inspiration and information from Caroline Weber's book. Sure enough, a glance at Juliet Grey's bibliography shows this is the case. There are many parallels between the two, but this is a very good thing and only furthers my appreciation for Juliet Grey's work (she does a fabulous job incorporating fashion into her narrative).

Because of Juliet Grey's already exhaustive look, Queen of Fashion did not add a ton to what I already knew. But, it did add some new bits of information and did a great job fleshing out some of the politics surrounding the time (particularly during her time as dauphine). Caroline Weber's voice is stellar, too, so I do not at all feel like I wasted my time in reading her book.

Much like MA's fashion, this book's strength is its weakness

By exploring and centering her focus on fashion, Caroline Weber necessarily glosses over and even outright omits several important historical events. This was frustrating, because she does such a good job at crafting a non-fiction account of this time, but also mostly excusable given the parameters of her approach. However, I think this is also the book's greatest weakness.

I do think the first part of the book is stronger than the latter part. Caroline Weber delved deeper into the politics and "whys" behind Marie Antoinette's choices and experiences during this part. She also attributed a great political acumen to Marie Antoinette during her dauphine years, which is in stark contrast to the woman she painted during her queenly reign as a spendthrift run amok and largely unaware of the political impact her clothing and lifestyle choices had at the time.

I had a harder time reconciling these interpretations as it just doesn't make sense to me how she would have had so much political awareness and then so little (and then so much again, at the end). I think this impression is less a conflict in Caroline Weber's assertions as it is an unfortunate side effect of her focus on fashion.

In the dauphine years, Marie Antoinette's fashion was much more strictly controlled by court protocol and while she certainly rebelled, these rebellions were within a necessarily political context and so Caroline Weber necessarily discussed this political context. 

However, in her queen years, the fashion frenzy took center stage and the ever shifting styles provided Caroline Weber with much to write about. Political motivations and effects, while discussed, took a backseat to describing the fashions themselves, and I think the narrative suffered as a result.

There was significantly less focus on Marie Antoinette's personal motivations and feelings during this section, and I think, especially in contrast to how much focus was put on this in the earlier parts of the narrative, helped give the impression of a queen with little in her head except pretty clothes.

This doesn't quite ring right and undermines Caroline Weber's earlier (and later) evidence of a woman who was extremely conscious of her stylistic choices and their political effects. If she was so sartorially savvy, then why this huge period of missteps? It doesn't add up, but I don't think this is a weakness in Carline Weber's ultimate argument, but rather a fumbling of her presentation. She just isn't consistent in carrying her argument through this time period, and I think that is partially the fault of her focus.

The fashion focus does also at times feel forced, even though the evidence is clearly there to draw such conclusions. Again, I think this is less a fault on Caroline Weber and her excellent research, than a result again of her focus on fashion to the exclusion of other important political events at the time.

This exclusion made the fashion highlights seem tenuous at times, when in reality they are not at all. Had Caroline Weber included the other political factors and events, they would have served to bolster her arguments of just how powerful fashion and symbolism was to the revolution. It would have provided even more context to her arguments and therefore support (as it had in the dauphine sections), but I get the impression they were nixed from inclusion because they were not directly related to fashion. A shame.

I know this seems like a lot of criticism, but really I don't mean it to be. It is really because Caroline Weber does such a fantastic job overall, that her one weakness here stands out so much. I know she has the knowledge and the authorial chops to shore this up. 

Bottom line

Queen of Fashion is an impeccably researched powerhouse of a book that I will be making a fixture in my personal library.

Highly recommended to those interested in Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution. For those who did not appreciate Juliet Grey's flowery writing style but did like her detailed history, Queen of Fashion would be a perfect alternative. This is also an excellent place to start for those who love historical fiction but are nervous about dipping their toes into non-fiction.


Looking for another book like this? You might like:

Click on the covers to go to my reviews

Monday, January 12, 2015

Giveaway: Candlewick Prize Pack (US & CA)

TIME magazine recently published their lists of Top 100 Young Adult & Top 100 Children’s Books of All Time. You can check out those lists here: and here:

Candlewick Press has 6 titles on the Young Adult list and they are kindly offering 1 complete set of these books for giveaway!

Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: Paperback copies of The Tiger Rising and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane both by Kate DiCamillo, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, Feed by M.T. Anderson and Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci.
  • As always, you do NOT have to be a follower
  • This giveaway is US and CA only
  • You must be 13 years of age or older
  • One entry per person
  • I will contact the winner through email and the winner will have 24 hours to reply before a new winner is chosen 
  • This giveaway closes on January 30th 

Interested in connecting with Candlewick? 

Twitter - @Candlewick
E-Volt Twitter - @evoltbooks
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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Books I Got

The Queen of Last Hopes: The Story of Margaret of AnjouI read and reviewed The Queen of Last Hopes by Susan Higginbotham  back in spring 2014, and ever since then I've been keeping my eyes peeled for a copy. I definitely did the whole double take and then covert snatch and clutch to my chest maneuver when I saw a pristine copy on the clearance shelf at my local used bookstore. Totally made my day.
The Borgias: The Hidden History

The Borgias by G. J. Meyer is a non-fiction book that apparently offers up some theories that veer from the norm. I'm wary, but game. I'm starting to realize that there are two ways to write a non-fiction book and I love one way (like a novel) and really dislike the other (like a rambling show off contest of obscure, out of order facts). I hope Meyer writes in the former style.
Ward Against Disaster
A Heart RevealedThe Anatomist's WifeElizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne

I've read and enjoyed the first two books in the Ward series by Melanie Card (Ward Against Death and Ward Against Darkness) so I was really happy to see the final book in the trilogy Ward Against Disaster show up on NetGalley. The unique world, the interplay between the two very likable main characters, and the punny titles makes this a series I really like and wish more people knew about.

I requested A Heart Revealed by Josi S. Kilpack because it's part of the Proper Romance series and I'm hoping I'll love it at least half as much as I loved Blackmoore. It sounds like at the very least it will be a sweet regency romance, which is good enough for me.

The Anatomist's Wife by Anna Lee Huber was another clearance shelf find. It's a historical mystery with a sleuthing leading lady and an "insufferable" romantic interest (which means hate turned love, which means "yes, please!").

Elizabeth by David Starkey is another non-fiction find and another steal from the clearance shelf. I've heard mixed things on David Starkey and get the impression he's a total jerkface. I think Elizabeth I can be kind of a jerkface, too (I know, I know), so this might work. I figure at the end of it I'll either love them both or hate them both.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

2015 Challenge: Reading Challenge Addict

0/6 challenges

Challenge Basics:  

Name: 2015 Reading Challenge Addict
Previous Hosts: Reading Challenge Addict
Starts: January 1, 2015
Ends: December 31, 2015
Levels: I am going to try for 13-20 books

Why I'm Interested:  

I've signed up for six challenges this year: 4 on my blog, 1 Goodreads challenge, and this challenge.

Challenges Completed:


Monday, January 5, 2015

2015 Challenge: Historical Fiction

5/25 books

Challenge Basics:  

Name: 2015 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
Hosts: Passages to the Past
Starts: January 1, 2015
Ends: December 31, 2015
Eligible Books: YA and adult historical fiction books. Non-fiction included.
Levels: I am going to try for 15-25 books

Why I'm Interested:  

I love historical fiction! I was really pleased with the amount of historical fiction (and non-fiction!) I managed to read last year. I feel like I learned so much, and I want to keep up with that. 2014 was the first time in maybe ever that I read non-fiction books and actually loved them like I love novels.

I have several Goodreads shelves for historical fiction and non-fiction books, so I'd like to tackle books I've added there.

Historical Bio: These are the weightier, meatier books that I want to make top priority. They go into detail about actual people and events and I'll learn the most from them. I've thrown in the non-fiction books onto this shelf, too. Ideally I want to read a ton of these.

Historical Fantasy: These vary as far as actual historical learning goes. Some have a ton of historical detail, but most just use a historical setting. Some of my favorite books come from this shelf and I don't want to neglect them just because they're not heavy historical fiction.

Historical Lite: These are a lot like the books on my Historical Fantasy shelf, just without the fantasy elements. Usually they're mysteries or romances set with a historical backdrop of varying degrees of detail. They're often easy breezy, fun books and I want to make sure I read them as well.

I also went on a buying spree and brought home a whole bunch of historical fiction books that I don't want to leave unread for years. So, extra points if I read those. I'll indicate these with an *

Books Completed:

Historical Bio (including non-fiction):

5. The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki
4. The King's Rose  by Alisa M. Libby
3. Reign of Henry VIII: Personalities and Politics by David Starkey
2. Queen of Fashion: Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution by Caroline Weber
1. Isabel: Jewel of Castilla by Carolyn Meyer

Historical Fantasy:


Historical Lite:


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