Saturday, August 29, 2015

Review: Love's Awakening by Laura Frantz

Love's Awakening (The Ballantyne Legacy #2)
By: Laura Frantz
Publisher: Revell
ISBN: 978-0-8007-2042-1


Elinor "Ellie" Ballantyne, just twenty years old and the jewel of her father's heart, flees finishing school and the matchmaking mamas of Philadelphia society, hungry for home and purpose. She is determined to shed some measure of her sheltered upbringing and embrace the Ballantyne steel of her heritage, vowing to make her own way in the world. But much has changed in her absence, and Ellie is ill-prepared for the simmering tensions between the pro-slavery and abolitionist movement, nor the depth of her family's involvement in the latter. However, the greatest danger may hail from the most unexpected quarter -- losing her heart to the son of the enemy -- the engmatic, and wholly unsuitable, Jack Turlock.

The rivalry between the Ballantynes and unscrupulous, whiskey-making Turlocks hails from Silas Ballantyne's early days in Pittsburgh, becoming further embittered when Isabel O'Hara, daughter of Silas's one-time friend and mentor, marries into the Turlock clan in a fit of pique when Silas chose Eden as his bride. And from that point, the die was cast: the Ballantynes respectable and virtuous, the Turlocks and their famed hell-raising ever a thorn in their -- and all respectable society's -- side.

Jack would like nothing more than to shed his family's unsavory reputation and start afresh. But ever aware of what he's seen and done, he was resigned to the burden of his familial heritage of violence and deceit, until a chance encounter with Ellie awakens feelings he'd long thought buried. Ellie's innocence and guileless acceptance of him as he is awakens in Jack the audacity to hope for a finer, better life. When his father and brother's plans threaten to destroy everything Ellie holds dear, Jack is left with a choice: the life he was raised to or faith in the God the Ballantynes claim and His promise of redemption.

While I like to stay current with favorite authors, it has been such a treat to lose myself in each successive installment of The Ballantyne Legacy without that pesky year-long wait between releases. Though the much-loved Silas and Eden are absent for half the novel, their presence is ever felt, underscoring Frantz's thesis of the heritage of faith, inherited through generations.

The Jack and Ellie relationship is not only one of my favorite tropes in romantic fiction -- adversaries to lovers -- but it is a gorgeously-wrought exploration of inheritance and choice. Colored with shades of Romeo and Juliet's warring families, Jack and Ellie's blossoming attraction is, at first blush, nought but an impossible dream. Separated by a gulf of familial rivalry and distrust, political ideologies, and most crucially, faith, here Frantz sketches a love story all the more memorable because of the transformative power of faith at its heart.

Love's Awakening has a two-fold meaning -- Jack and Ellie, certainly, but also the agape love of one human being to another regardless of race or creed. The sacrificial love those who claim Christ are called to live each day is woven throughout each page, as Frantz places her characters in the eye of the storm brewing over slavery. The Ballantynes and Jack participate in the early skirmishes between pro-slavers and abolitionists in Pennsylvania of the 1820's seeds of the great conflict to come later in the century that would rend the nation in two. As Jack quickly discovers, the Ballantynes' abolitionist efforts are a call to action, a study in the cost, danger, and rewards of putting faith in action.

Frantz has always delivered emotionally intense novels. Her heart-stopping romances are a hallmark of her work, as is her unparalleled ability to bring the past to life on the page, all on display here. But in Love's Awakening, in the final oact of Ellie and Jack's story she delivers her most action-packed epic yet. It is no exaggeration to say that my heart was racing as I breathlessly turned the pages, eager to see the finale unfold in all its high stakes, cinematic grandeur.

Like it's predecessor, Love's Awakening is a story of inheritance, both for good and ill. The Ballantyne Legacy is an unflinchingly honest study of faith and choice and the power of both to resound through future generations. A stunning romance, suspense, and heartbreak -- this is Frantz at her finest. I cannot wait to discover what's in store for the final Ballantyne installment!

About the book:

In the spring of 1822, Ellie Ballantyne leaves finishing school and returns to the family home in Pittsburgh only to find that her parents are away on a long journey and her siblings don't seem to want her to stay. Determined to stand her ground and find her place in the world, Ellie fills her time by opening a day school for young ladies.

But when one of her students turns out to be an incorrigible young member of the Turlock family, Ellie knows she must walk a fine line. Slaveholders and whiskey magnates, the Turlocks are envious of the powerful Ballantynes and suspicious of their abolitionist leanings. As Ellie becomes increasingly entangled with the rival clan -- particularly the handsome Jack Turlock, she finds herself falling in love with an impossible future. Will she betray her family and side with the enemy?

Masterful storyteller Laura Frantz continues to unfold the stirring saga of the Ballantyne family in this majestic tale of love and loyalty. This is the Ballantyne Legacy.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Ross Poldark Blog Tour - UPDATE!

The blog tour celebrating the Poldark novels and miniseries may have ended, but the grand prize contest is still open! The grand prize (hosted by Sourcebooks) now includes a DVD copy of the new PBS series!

I'm turning off comments for this post and directing you to my entry in the blog tour, an excerpt from the first novel. You'll find all of the contest details there! Good luck!

Review: Love's Reckoning by Laura Frantz

Love's Reckoning (The Ballantyne Legacy #1)
By: Laura Frantz
Publisher: Revell
ISBN: 978-0-8007-2041-4


Eden Lee longs to make a fresh start in Philadelphia, to escape her father Liege's temper and her sister Elspeth's selfish machinations. Her fiery hair and family reputation mask a quiet spirit that hungers after God, desiring nothing more than the freedom to exercise her fledgling faith freely. But before she can make good on her dream of escape, her blacksmith father's new apprentice arrives, setting into motion plans of marriage and familial expectations that threaten to derail Eden's closely guarded dreams.

Silas Ballantyne has plans of his own to head west once his apprenticeship is finished, dreams he is determined shall not be thwarted by his contentious master or his tempting daughters. However, Silas finds himself irresistibly drawn to Eden's sweet spirit in defiance of Liege and Elspeth's determination to ensnare the talented blacksmith in a web of deceit. As love blossoms between Silas and Eden, fostered by whispered stairwell meetings and exchanged scraps of scripture, the long-latent embers of jealousy between Liege's daughters ignite. When all they hold dear is threatened, Silas and Eden are forced to decide if their faith and love is enough to withstand the heartache that would see their hoped-for future destroyed,

It has been far too long since I've lost myself within the pages of a Laura Frantz novel. Reading Love's Reckoning was akin to water falling on dry land, a balm to my soul sorely in need of Frantz's craftsmanship and heart. The first installment in a multi-generational family epic, Love's Reckoning is replete with Frantz's trademarks: carefully-crafted characters, a heart-rending love story, and a nearly tactile sense of time and a nearly tactile sense of time and place. Within these pages, late 18th-century Pennsylvania springs to life with color and depth. If a novel is her canvas, Frantz paints with the skill of a master.

Here Frantz blends shades of the Cinderella story with a familial and romance dynamic reminiscent of the biblical saga of Jacob, Esau, Rachel, and Laban. Eden is a classic Cinderella figure, the family drudge who still maintains her sweet spirit. In less capable hands, seeing the abuse she endures at the hands of family members could have made her seem weak. But instead, Eden is an intricately wrought portrait of one who chooses again and again the sacrifice of kindness and belief with no expectation of reward (much like the recent live-action version of Cinderella). 

While Silas is cast in the role of prince/redeemer, both he and Eden's character arcs are colored with shades of Jacob's story (with Elspeth cast alternately as Esau and Leah, in the most extreme forms of that character archetype). Their journey is a fight for an inheritance beyond what the eye can see -- a twin legacy of earthly and spiritual favor. Theirs is a story of lives the enemy to all believers would see destroyed (John 10:10), of potential unrealized and dreams unfulfilled. But in the pain of circumstance, those dreams, once surrendered and yielded to the God who first planted them within their hearts, blossom into a gorgeously wrought illustration of redemptive promise (Joel 2:25).

For those who crave realism in inspirational fiction or wonder if it even exists, they need look no further than here for one such example. While Love's Reckoning is everything I crave in historical romance -- research, depth, passion -- within these pages lies a tale of emotional abuse, a physical assault, and shattered dreams. Frantz never exploits the very real heartache her characters endure, but within the framework of their circumstances sketch a story of hope and redemption with compassion and sensitivity. 

Authors like Frantz are why I believe so strongly in the possibility of inspirational fiction. This is a wildly entertaining tale, yes, epic in its scope and intimate in its emotional reckoning, a sweeping saga in every sense that term implies. But more than that, Silas and Eden's story is one of hope and a faith at times no bigger than a grain of mustard seed, and the ability of that faith in action to transform and redeem the most broken among us.

About the book:

On a bitter December day in 1784, Silas Ballantyne arrives at the door of blacksmith Liege Lee in York County, Pennsylvania. Silas is determined to finish his apprenticeship quickly and move west. But because he is a fast worker and a superb craftsman, Liege endeavors to keep in in Lancaster by appealing to an old tradition: the apprentice shall marry one of his master's beautiful daughters.

Eden is as gentle and fresh as Elspeth is high-spirited and cunning. But are they truly who they appear to be? In a house laced with secrets, each sister seeks to secure her future. Which one will claim Silas's heart -- and will he agree to Liege's arrangement?

In this sweeping family saga, one man's choices in love and work, in friends and enemies, set the stage for generations to come, This is the Ballantyne Legacy.

Note to blog readers: I in no way, shape, or form expected to be posting a book review TWO DAYS after declaring a blog hiatus, but I finished this book and literally couldn't help myself. No promises going forward, but we'll see how things go. ;-)

Monday, August 3, 2015


Hello, bloggers! As you might guess from the title of this post, this is making official what's been the state of the blog for the better part of a year (at least). I'm calling an official hiatus on book reviewing and regular blogging through the end of the year. Quite simply I don't currently have the time, and instead of being something I enjoy, the idea of reviewing in the long format I'm used to and love is right now more of a burden and stress, and who needs that, am I right? Also, I need to rediscover reading -- and processing my reaction to the written word -- afresh without the (self-imposed, I know...but the struggle of those self-imposed deadlines is real!) pressure of producing regular blog content.

I may still pop in from time to time, but any pretense of expecting to catch up or once again adopt a regular blogging schedule needs to be off the table for me mentally, for the time being at any rate.

I plan on still remaining active on Twitter and GoodReads, so if we haven't connected on those platforms please come find me! :) After all, just because I'm not blogging regularly doesn't mean I still won't want to talk about books or British television!! :)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

New Spectre Trailer!!

A new trailer for Spectre dropped yesterday and it is GLORIOUS.

Needless to say I cannot WAIT for my  James Bond/Daniel Craig fix come November. :)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


I had the chance to review Ant-Man, the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and you can read my thoughts at BreakPoint! I thought the movie was a lot of fun and Paul Rudd is, as per his norm, pretty delightful. ;-) If you've seen Ant-Man I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Once Upon a Time @ Comic-Con

Came back this afternoon to tons of fantastic spoilers about the upcoming fifth season of Once Upon a Time -- this Dark Swan storyline is going to be sooooo good!! Here's a few videos and links.

Comic-Con video - "The Dark Swan" - No new footage here, but Ginnifer Goodwin's narration tracing Emma's journey is absolutely heartbreaking.

First look at...MERIDA!! Can't wait! Also, a chilling video clip featuring the introduction of Dark Swan, in what looks to be Rumple's old Enchanted Forest jail cell...or very like it. I have to think Jennifer Morrison is going to enjoy the chance to play a dark Emma. Also, the black feathers in the promo? FAB work there.

TVLine has more info and spoilers from the panel.

And finally, this links to the video shown at the panel penned by Once-screenwriter Jane Espenson...and it is absolutely HILARIOUS.

Star Wars @ Comic-Con

Absolutely loved seeing the Comic-Con reel for Star Wars: The Force Awakens -- I may or may not have teared up a few times:

And this article is absolutely wonderful, about Harrison Ford embracing his role in the Star Wars fandom after nearly forty years.

December can't get here soon enough, and I promise I'm not just saying that because it's hot enough to fry eggs on the sidewalk today... :P

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Sherlock Special - First Look!

Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Watson (Martin Freeman) back in their original Victorian setting? This may be the most beautiful thing I've ever seen...well, this week at any rate. ;-) I hate the wait between new Sherlock episodes, but this clip makes me realize anew how much this show makes it worth the wait.

Doctor Who Series 9 Trailer!

Thank you, Comic-Con for new Doctor Who footage! Can't wait until September 19th!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Ross Poldark Blog Tour - Excerpt & Contest Info!

As I promised yesterday, today I'm thrilled to share an exclusive excerpt from Ross Poldark with you as part of the Ross Poldark Blog Tour! Following the excerpt, read on for information on the blog tour giveaway hosted by Sourcebooks Landmark. Enjoy!

Excerpt from Chapter 2 of Ross Poldark:

Ross came into a company quite unprepared for his arrival. When his figure showed in the doorway, one after another of those at the table broke into words of surprise. Elizabeth and Francis and Verity and Dr. Choake were on their feet; Charles lay back grunting and inert from shock. Cousin William-Alfred polished his steel spectacles, while Aunt Agatha plucked at his sleeve mumbling, “What is it? What’s to do? The meal isn’t over.”

Ross screwed up his eyes until they grew used to the light. Trenwith House was almost on his way home, and he had not thought to intrude on a party.

First to greet him was Verity. She ran across and put her arms around his neck. “Why, Ross dear! Fancy now!” was all she could find to say.

“Verity!” He gave her a hug. And then he saw Elizabeth.

“Stap me,” said Charles. “So you’re back at last, boy. You’re late for dinner, but we’ve some apple tart left.”

“Did they lame us, Ross?” said Dr. Choake. “A pox on the whole war. It was ill-starred. Thank God it’s over.”

Francis, after a short hesitation, came quickly around the table and grasped the other man’s hand. “It’s good to see you back, Ross! We’ve missed you.”

“It’s good to be back,” said Ross. “To see you all and—”

The color of the eyes under the same heavy lids was the only mark of cousinship. Francis was compact, slim, and neat, with the fresh complexion and clear features of handsome youth. He looked what he was: carefree, easy-going, self-confident, a young man who has never known what it was to be in danger or short of money, or to pit his strength against another man’s except in games or horse-play. Someone at school had christened them “the fair Poldark and the dark Poldark.” They had always been good friends, which was surprising, since their fathers had not.

“This is a solemn occasion,” said Cousin William-Alfred, his bony hands grasping the back of his chair. “A family reunion in more than name. I trust you’re not seriously wounded, Ross. That scar is a considerable disfigurement.”

“Oh, that,” said Ross. “That would be of no moment if I didn’t limp like Jago’s donkey.”

He went around the table greeting the others. Mrs. Chynoweth welcomed him coldly, extending a hand from a distance.

“Do tell uth,” lisped Polly Choake, “thome of youw exthpewiences, Captain Poldark: how we lotht the wa’, what theethe Amewicanth awe like, and—”

“Very like us, ma’am. That’s why we lost it.” He had reached Elizabeth.

“Well, Ross,” she said softly.

His eyes feasted on her face. “This is most opportune. I couldn’t have wished it different.”

“I could,” she said. “Oh, Ross, I could.”

“And what are you going to do now, my lad?” asked Charles. “It’s high time you settled down. Property don’t look after itself, and you can’t trust hirelings. Your father could have done with you this last year and more—”

“I almost called to see you tonight,” Ross said to Elizabeth, “but left it for tomorrow. Self-restraint is rewarded.”

“I must explain. I wrote you, but—”

“Why,” said Aunt Agatha, “Lord damn me if it isn’t Ross! Come here, boy! I thought you was gone to make one of the blest above.”

Reluctantly Ross walked down the table to greet his great-aunt. Elizabeth stayed where she was, holding the back of her chair so that her knuckles were whiter even than her face.

Ross kissed Aunt Agatha’s whiskery cheek. Into her ear he said, “I’m glad to see, Aunt, that you’re still one of the blest below.”

She chuckled with delight, showing her pale brownish-pink gums. “Not so blest, maybe. But I wouldn’t want to be changing just yet.”

The conversation became general, everyone question-ing Ross as to when he had landed, what he had done and seen while away.

“Elizabeth,” said Mrs. Chynoweth, “fetch me my wrap from upstairs, will you? I am a little chilly.”

“Yes, Mother.” She turned and walked away, tall and virginal, groped with her hand for the oak banister.

“That fellow Paynter is a rogue,” said Charles, wiping his hands down the sides of his breeches.

“If I was you I should throw him out and get a reliable man.”

Ross was watching Elizabeth going up the stairs. “He was my father’s friend.”

Charles shrugged in some annoyance. “You won’t find the house in a good state of repair.”

“It wasn’t when I left.”

“Well, it’s worse now. I haven’t been over for some time. You know what your father used to say about coming in the other direction: ‘It is too far to walk and not far enough to ride.’”

“Eat this, Ross,” said Verity, bringing a piled plate to him. “And sit here.”

Ross thanked her and took the seat offered him between Aunt Agatha and Mr. Chynoweth. He would have preferred to be beside Elizabeth, but that would have to wait. He was surprised to find Elizabeth there. She and her mother and father had never once been to Nampara in the two years he had known her. Two or three times he glanced up as he ate to see if she was returning.

Verity was helping Mrs. Tabb to carry out some of the used dishes. Francis stood plucking at his lip by the front door; the others were back in their chairs. A silence had fallen on the company.

“It is no easy countryside to which you return,” said Mr. Chynoweth, pulling at his beard. “Discontent is rife. Taxes are high, wages have fallen. The country is exhausted from its many wars, and now the Whigs are in. I can think of no worse a prospect.”

“Had the Whigs been in before,” said Dr. Choake, refusing to be tactful, “none of this need have happened.”

Ross looked across at Francis. “I’ve interrupted a party. Is it in celebration of the peace or in honor of the next war?”

Thus he forced the explanation they had hesitated to give.

“No,” said Francis. “I—er—the position is—”

“We are celebrating something far different,” said Charles, motioning for his glass to be filled again. “Francis is to be married. That is what we’re celebrating.”

“To be married,” said Ross, slicing his food. “Well, well, and who—”

“To Elizabeth,” said Mrs. Chynoweth.

There was silence.

Ross put down his knife. “To—”

“To my daughter.”

“Can I get you something to drink?” Verity whispered to Elizabeth, who had just reached the bottom of the stairs.

“No, no… Please no.”

“Oh,” said Ross. “To…Elizabeth.”

“We are very happy,” said Mrs. Chynoweth, “that our two ancient families are to be united. Very happy and very proud. I am sure, Ross, that you will join with us in wishing Francis and Elizabeth all happiness in their union.”

Contest Info:

Win One of Three Fabulous Prizes

In celebration of the re-release of Ross Poldark and Demelza, Sourcebooks Landmark is offering three chances to win copies of the books or a grand prize, an Anglophile-themed gift package.

Two lucky winners will each receive one trade paperback copy of Ross Poldark and Demelza, and one grand prize winner will receive a prize package containing the following items:

(2 ) Old Britain Castles Pink Pottery Mugs by Johnson Brothers
(1) Twelve-inch Old Britain Castles Pink Pottery Plater by Johnson Brothersr
(1) London Telephone Box Tin of Ahmad English Breakfast Tea
(1) Jar of Mrs. Bridges Marmalade
(1) Package of Duchy Originals Organic Oaten Biscuits
(2) Packets of Blue Boy Cornflower Seeds by Renee's Garden Heirloom (1) Trade Paperback Copy of Ross Poldark & Demelza, by Winston Graham

To enter the giveaway contest simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on the Ross Poldark Blog Tour starting July 06, 2015 through 11:59 pm PT, August 10, 2015. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the entrants and announced on the Buzz at Sourcebooks blog on August 13, 2015. Winners have until August 20, 2015 to claim their prize. The giveaway contest is open to US residents and the prizes will be shipped to US addresses. Good luck to all!

Click HERE or HERE for a list of all stops on the tour. Good luck!

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Ross Poldark Blog Tour - Intro!

Today I am thrilled to announce the start of the Ross Poldark Blog Tour! Speaking of Ross, how are we all enjoying Poldark on Masterpiece? We ARE enjoying Poldark yes? And if not -- well for goodness' sake catch up people! These stories are the BEST!! Historical fiction catnip, a swoon-worthy, brooding hero -- need I say more? I thought not. :)

Here's some information about the books and the tour (and what would a blog tour be without a giveaway, am I right?). And come back tomorrow when I share an exclusive excerpt and information about the giveaway!

If Jane Austen met Charlotte Bronte and they drank too much port, the Poldark Saga would be their literary love child.” —  

Captain Ross Poldark rides again in the new Sourcebooks Landmark tie-in editions of Ross Poldark and Demelza, the first two novels in the acclaimed Poldark Saga by Winston Graham, adapted into the inaugural season of the new Masterpiece Classic PBS’s series Poldark, airing June 21 – August 2 on PBS.

In celebration, July 6th through August 3rd, The Ross Poldark Blog Tour will visit thirty popular book blogs specializing in historical, romance and Austenesque fiction. Featuring spotlights, previews, excerpts and book reviews of these two acclaimed historical fiction novels, the tour will also offer readers a chance at a fabulous giveaway contest including copies of the books and a stunning Anglophile-themed prize package.

In the first novel in Winston Graham’s hit series, a weary Ross Poldark returns to England from war, looking forward to a joyful homecoming with his beloved Elizabeth. But instead he discovers his father has died, his home is overrun by livestock and drunken servants, and Elizabeth—believing Ross to be dead—is now engaged to his cousin. Ross has no choice but to start his life anew.

Thus begins the Poldark series, a heartwarming, gripping saga set in the windswept landscape of Cornwall. With an unforgettable cast of characters that spans loves, lives, and generations, this extraordinary masterwork from Winston Graham is a story you will never forget.

In the enchanting second novel in Winston Graham’s beloved Poldark series, Demelza Carne, an impoverished miner’s daughter Ross Poldark rescued from a fairground brawl, now happily finds herself his wife. But the events of these turbulent years test their marriage and their love. As Ross launches into a bitter struggle for the right of the mining communities, Demelza’s efforts to adapt to the ways of the gentry (and her husband) place her in increasingly odd and embarrassing situations. When tragedy strikes and sows the seeds of an enduring rivalry between Ross and the powerful George Warleggan, will Demelza manage to bridge their differences before they destroy her and her husband’s chance at happiness?

Against the stunning backdrop of eighteenth century Cornwall, Demelza sweeps readers into one of the greatest love stories of all time.


Winston Graham (1908-2003) is the author of forty novels. His books have been widely translated and the Poldark series has been developed into two television series, shown in 22 countries. Six of Winston Graham's books have been filmed for the big screen, the most notable being Marnie, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Winston Graham is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and in 1983 was awarded the O.B.E.


July 06           My Jane Austen Book Club (Preview)
July 07           Booktalk & More (Excerpt)                                   
July 08           Reading, Writing, Working, Playing (Review)
July 09           vvb32 Reads (Preview)
July 10           The Paige Turner (Review)                                 
July 10           My Kids Led Me Back To P & P (Excerpt)                                
July 11           Austenprose (Review)                                          
July 12           Laura's Reviews (Preview)                                                          
July 13           Peeking Between the Pages (Review)                         
July 13           Reflections of a Book Addict (Preview)                                               
July 14           Living Read Girl (Review)                        
July 15           Confessions of a Book Addict (Review)
July 16           vvb32 Reads (Review)                 
July 17           Paige Turner (Review)                             
July 18           Truth, Beauty, Freedom & Books (Preview)                           
July 19           Marie Antoinette’s Gossip Guide (Excerpt)                             
July 20           Laura's Reviews (Review)                                   
July 20           The Calico Critic (Review)                                               
July 21           So Little Time…So Much to Read (Excerpt)
July 21           Poof Books (Excerpt)                                            
July 22           Babblings of a Bookworm (Review)
July 23           Austenprose (Review)                                          
July 24           Peeking Between the Pages (Review) 
July 25           My Love for Jane Austen (Excerpt)
July 25           Living Read Girl (Review)
July 26           Delighted Reader (Review)
July 27           My Jane Austen Book Club (Review)
July 27           Austenesque Reviews (Review)
July 27           Laura's Reviews (Review)
July 28           She Is Too Fond Of Books (Review)
July 29           English Historical Fiction Authors (Preview)                         
July 30           vvb32 Reads (Review)
July 30           Babblings of a Bookworm (Review)
July 31           CozyNookBks (Excerpt)                                       
Aug 01           The Calico Critic (Review)
Aug 01           More Agreeably Engaged (Review)
Aug 02           Scuffed Slippers Wormy Books (Review)
Aug 03           Romantic Historical Reviews (Review)
Aug 03           Psychotic State Book Reviews (Review)         

Remember to check back tomorrow to read an excerpt from Ross Poldark and for information on the giveaway hosted by Sourcebooks Landmark!

Review: Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel

Palace of Spies (Palace of Spies #1)
By: Sarah Zettel
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers


Margaret "Peggy" Preston Fitzroy had few friends and few prospects. Following her father's disappearance and her mother's subsequent death, at the tender age of eight Peggy was left saddled with the burden of her dubious parental antecedents. Sent to live off the largesse of aunt and uncle, she serves as a companion to their only daughter, Olivia. While she and Olivia become fast friends, now sixteen Peggy is ever more increasingly aware of her tenuous status in her uncle's household. When he arranges a wholly unsuitable engagement solely for the purpose of ridding himself of an unwanted familial expenditure, Peggy's refusal to comply sees her cast on the streets with little more than the clothes on her back.

Her only hope is to pursue the acquaintance of Mr. Tinderflint, a gentleman who claimed to have been her mother's friend and expressed a keen interest in doing the daughter a good turn, should her fortune and interest desire. Through Tinderflint and his asssociates Mr. Peele and Mrs. Abbott, Peggy becomes a reluctant player in an intrigue reaching the crown itself. The unlikely trio train Peggy to infiltrate the court of George I by assuming the identity of the recently -- and secretly -- deceased Lady Francesca Wallingham. Assuming that lady's position as maid of honor to Caroline, Princess of Wales, Peggy would then be ideally placed to pass intelligence on the doings and intrigues of the court to her trio of spymasters.

With no other option, Peggy accepts, embarking on the most dangerous game of her young life -- and quickly learning that everything she was taught about her predecessor was a life. In a court riddled with Jacobite spies, where lord and lady alike jockey for position and favor, one misstep in this intrigue could cost Peggy her life. But in this great game of kings and pretenders, the most important player of all may turn out to be a masquerading maid.

Thanks to its youthful protagonist and candy-colored cover, Palace of Spies is positioned and marketed as a young adult novel, but like the best stories it transcends categorization -- this is a frothy spy caper, yes, but solidly grounded in its historical context. Those who look to the television show Reign and its ilk would do better to look within these pages for their historical drama fix. For while Zettel brings the 18th century royal English court to life with enough beautiful, bright young things and romantic intrigue to satisfy the most die-hard historical soap opera aficiando, hers are not merely modern characters dressed in period costume. Peggy is quite intelligent and forward-thinking, but Zettel is careful to make her very much a girl of her time, well aware of the social expectations vis-a-vis women in the world in which she lived.

Zettel peppers the narrative with facts on dress, make-up, hair, and court customs and procedure, grounding the incredible adventure Peggy finds herself involved in historical fact and realities. For those who cut their teeth on stories of aristocratic intrigue as I did, such as The Scarlet Pimpernel or The Man in the Iron Mask, there is much to love in watching Peggy's dangerous chess mach of political intrigue unfold. Except here, unlike most classic tales featuring male protagonists, a heroine is center stage, arguably ill-equipped but a determined survivor, her greatest assets her quick wit and keen intelligence.

Peggy is the type of heroine I absolutely adore -- smart, resourceful, and compassionate. Part Nancy Drew, part Peggy Carter, with a dash of an Austen heroine's sensibilities, Peggy's first adventure in George I's court is perfect gateway historical fiction. Palace of Spies has all the energy and rapid pacing of modern filmmaking, grounded in history and character development sure to leave readers craving more. There's the promise of romance with Matthew Reade, the handsome artist's apprentice, a blossoming relationship rife with swoon-worthy sparks, but more importantly built on a foundation of friendship and mutual regard. Between Matthew and her cousin, Peggy has formed an unlikely team with which to tackle the mightiest political forces of her day -- a team I can't wait to see in action in future installments! Palace of Spies is a breezy, fast-paced read set in a time period too little explored in historical fiction, laced with intrigue and historical flavor, a welcome addition to YA lit and above all, a rollicking fun read.

About the book:

A warning to all young ladies of delicate breeding who wish to embark upon lives of adventure: Don't.
Sixteen-year-old Peggy is a well-bred orphan who is coerced into posing as a lady in waiting at the palace of King George I. Life is grand, until Peggy starts to suspect that the girl she's impersonating might have been murdered. Unless Peggy can discover the truth, she might be doomed to the same terrible fate. But in a court of shadows and intrigue, anyone could be a spy—perhaps even the handsome young artist with whom Peggy is falling in love . . .
History and mystery spark in this effervescent series debut.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Review: The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer

The Inner Circle (The Culper Ring #1)
By: Brad Meltzer
Publisher: Grand Central
ISBN: 978-1455561391


Working in the National Archives, surrounded by documents both anecdotal and critical to to the history of the United States, Beecher White was content to revel in his role as a guardian of history -- never a player. The past possesses a comforting finite quality, one Beecher has found himself increasingly retreating towards since the dissolution of his engagement and the future he'd thought was within his reach. Until one day, Clementine Kaye, the childhood crush he'd never been able to forget, comes whirling back into his life with the force of a hurricane. Eager to impress her and prove that he's more akin to the adventurous side of Indiana Jones than that famous fictional archaeologist's bookish and professorial "day job," he agrees to help her find her long-lost father. But a simple records request turns complicated when, on impulse, he agrees to let her in one of the top-secret vaults where high-profile guests -- in this case, the President -- can request and review documents. 

But Beecher's rule-breaking impulse backfires when an accident in the vault uncovers something they were never meant to find -- a centuries-old, gutted dictionary that may have once belonged to George Washington. Washington, the founder of the legendary spy network the Culper Ring, known for hiding messages in plain sight, under the most innocuous of pretexts. But if the dictionary is a message, it raises the question of who would be trying to reach the president in one of his most secure, private locations...or, who could the president be trying to reach outside normal channels, and why? When the security guard who let him into the vault turns up dead, Beecher finds himself thrust into the fight of his life to discover the meaning behind the dictionary, uncovering a web of conspiracies and cover-ups reaching the highest levels of government. When everyone has something to lose, who can he trust...for one thing Beecher is sure of, no one can take on a sitting president and emerge unscathed...

Those who have been reading my reviews for a while may note that The Inner Circle is somewhat out of my reading norm. But having heard Brad Meltzer on the radio last week promoting the third installment of his Culper Ring series, I knew I had to check these books out. The concept sounded too irresistibly akin to the National Treasure movies, which I loved. This was a reading gamble that paid off. I cannot remember the last time I read a novel so quickly -- over the course of four days I could barely bring myself to put this book down. 

The Inner Circle is a highly readable, thoroughly entertaining blend of history, mystery, and suspense. Sure, it's arguably unrealistic and convoluted, but I found myself enthralled by every twist and turn. (Though, seriously, a chapter is not two pages long. And most of these "chapters" are. But it does give you the sense that you're reading the book faster, I suppose...) If more political thrillers of this ilk were made into television shows or films I would be so there.  

This is entertaining, escapist fiction that should drive anyone who finds themselves intrigued by what they find within its pages to their history books. And the best part, for me at any rate, is the sense one gets of excavating history's secrets right alongside Beecher in his adrenaline-fueled quest for the truth. Comparing this series to an Indiana Jones film feels on target, but rather than physical exploits in far-flung lands, Meltzer gives us a thirty-something, bookish hero whose most remarkable quality is arguably that he is so average. Beecher, for all his mistakes, embodies the idea that given the chance the most ordinary individual is capable of being a world-changer. 

If this book has a fault, it's that it perhaps tries too hard to be clever. The puzzle Meltzer sets forth within these pages contains enough twists, turns, and red herrings to give one whiplash, and occasionally the ultra-short chapters -- including viewpoint changes and flashbacks -- make the narrative feel choppy and disconnected. That said, I still devoured every word...and any book that I literally can't put down deserves all credit for not just holding my attention but captivating it. 

The Inner Circle is an incredibly fun, roller-coaster ride of an introduction to Meltzer's work, and I look forward to exploring his backlist -- especially catching up with Beecher's second and third adventures. Meltzer writes with a cinematic flair, the result a blend of NCIS-style suspense and The West Wing's political intrigue. If you're looking for a summer read blending history and cutthroat political intrigue, look no further...the only problem you may run into is finding time to sleep. :)

About the book:

There are stories no one knows. Hidden stories. I love those stories. And since I work in the National Archives, I find those stories for a living.
Beecher White, a young archivist, spends his days working with the most important documents of the U.S. government. He has always been the keeper of other people's stories, never a part of the story himself...

Until now.

When Clementine Kaye, Beecher's first childhood crush, shows up at the National Archives asking for his help tracking down her long-lost father, Beecher tries to impress her by showing her the secret vault where the President of the United States privately reviews classified documents. After they accidentally happen upon a priceless artifact - a 200 hundred-year-old dictionary that once belonged to George Washington, hidden underneath a desk chair, Beecher and Clementine find themselves suddenly entangled in a web of deception, conspiracy, and murder.

Soon a man is dead, and Beecher is on the run as he races to learn the truth behind this mysterious national treasure. His search will lead him to discover a coded and ingenious puzzle that conceals a disturbing secret from the founding of our nation. It is a secret, Beecher soon discovers, that some believe is worth killing for.

Gripping, fast-paced, and filled with the fascinating historical detail for which he is famous, THE INNER CIRCLE is a thrilling novel that showcases a brilliant author writing at the height of his craft.

Friday, June 19, 2015

This weekend on Masterpiece...

It is a BIG weekend on Masterpiece, y'all! I am SO EXCITED. Sunday night sees the premiere of both Poldark and The Crimson Field (FINALLY!).

Poldark, for those not in the know, is based on a series of Winston Graham novels detailing the life, loves, and dramas of Ross Poldark, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, recently returned to his home in Cornwall. This is the stuff of period drama GOLD, my friends! The original Poldark series from the 1970s, starring Robin Ellis (WHO ONCE TALKED TO ME ON TWITTER), was a breakout smash hit and helped launch the Masterpiece brand.

Earlier this month I started watching the first series of Classic Poldark and was immediately hooked. Trust me, people, do not let film quality or changes in filming styles put you off -- this is a drama that has HELD UP. And not only held up but still has the ability to shine and captivate new viewers (like yours truly) with its pacing, characterizations, and energy. I'm about a fourth of the way through the second series and it is just as fantastic!

I've also been reading the first novel, aptly entitled Ross Poldark, and I have a very serious question for the universe here: WHERE HAS THIS BOOK BEEN ALL MY LIFE? I cannot BELIEVE I am just NOW discovering these amazing, thoroughly entertaining stories! This first book was published in friggin' it's been out there and I've (sadly) been living in a black hole of Poldark-deprivation. BUT NO MORE...and I am here to shout from the blogging rooftops that these stories are very much Ruth-approved! Seriously, if you love history, romance, intrigue, social commentary...this book has it all, and in SPADES. Go forth and read, my friends!

(Just because I can, here is the cover of the gorgeous, recently released Sourcebooks tie-in edition! Beautiful, no?)

Aidan Turner...SWOON. (I realize this is a controversial statement, but he was the best thing for me in the Hobbit films. *whew* I feel so much better now that that's out there...) ;-)

Here are a couple of trailers and clips:

I am so excited I can hardly stand it!!

Following Poldark we get the premiere of The Crimson Field, a six-part series following the lives of nurses on the fields of World War I. It's my understanding that this was originally envisioned as a multi-season series, but was not hopefully it doesn't end on too much of a cliffhanger. But I think the subject matter is fascinating and the cast is fantastic, so I'm looking forward to checking this out. Here's a preview:

Enjoy! And watch (and read) ALL THE POLDARK THINGS. Totally worth it, promise. :)