Love Comes Calling by Siri Mitchell (Against All Expectations #1)

love comes callingEllis Eaton, a young actress who dreams of Hollywood stardom, takes on her toughest role yet when she agrees to pose as a friend and temporarily work at the telephone exchange. If she succeeds, she’ll earn the funds she needs to skip town and make her dream a reality. When Ellis overhears a threat to Griffin Phillips, the boy everyone assumes she’ll settle down with, she commits to foiling the plot to hurt Griffin while avoiding his romantic advances.
 
Siri Mitchell ventures into the Roaring Twenties with a charming, but scatterbrained, heroine in Ellis whose mad-cap escapades will have you laughing at her misadventures. Mitchell’s book is well-written and has moments of (surprising) depth with a pulse on class relations and the dark side of Prohibition. Featuring a gorgeous Art Deco-influenced cover, the book also includes end notes on Prohibition and the real gangsters of Boston in the 1920’s and discussion questions for book clubs or classrooms.

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This review first appeared in the August 2014 issue of Historical Novel Review. I received a copy of the book for the purposes of a fair review.

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Every Tear a Memory by Myra Johnson (Till We Meet Again #3)

The Specs:

EVERY TEAR A MEMORY by Myra Johnson (Till We Meet Again, Bk 3), Abingdon Press, 2014, $14.99, pb, 320pp, 9781426753725

every tear a memory

Joanna Trapp leaves her old life in France behind when the war ends and family calls her home. But civilian life as a switchboard operator in Hot Springs, Arkansas, doesn’t have the same appeal as her formerly adventurous life as a Hello Girl for the Army Signal Corps. Thomas Ballard is a semi-successful businessman at the Arlington who was medically ineligible to serve, and although he seeks a quiet life, he finds himself attracted to Joanna’s daring spirit. The question they must answer together is whether there’s room for love when they differ in values.

Johnson continues her post-WWI series, which follows female protagonists who served during the war and the Ballard men who love them. The plot here is full of flawed characters, poor choices and misunderstandings that stand in the way of love and keep the emotions relatable, whether it’s teenage angst over a boy, or the desire to be respected amongst one’s family and community. The book also has a refreshing emphasis on purity (without being preachy), making this a romance appropriate for younger readers. If you enjoyed Sarah Sundin’s WWII books, you should look into reading this series.

This review first appeared in the November 2014 issue of Historical Novel Review. I received a copy of the book for the purposes of a fair review.

Hope at Dawn by Stacy Henrie (Of Love and War #1)

The Specs:

HOPE AT DAWN (Of Love and War, Bk 1) by Stacy Henrie, 2014, Forever (an imprint of Grand Central Publishing), $8.00/C$9.00, pb. 384pp, 978-1-455-59880-9

hope at dawnLivy Campbell is the daughter of an all-American family; with two brothers fighting overseas, she desperately wants to help her family and accepts the first job she’s offered, as a schoolteacher in Hilden, Iowa. Friedrick Wagner, a handsome German-American living in Hilden, just wants to provide for and protect his family, but the fear and prejudice against people like him makes that increasingly difficult. Complicating things is his growing attraction to Livy, a match that can never be. With an uncertain future ahead of them, Livy and Friedrick must tread carefully to retain their faith and their freedom.

Condensing a timeline of real events in 1918-1919 including the liberty loan drives and a language law passed by the Governor of Iowa in 1918; Henrie sets the fictional town and characters of Hilden in a hotbed of anti-German sentiment and fear. While the romantic tension could be stronger and Friedrick’s rival more developed, Henrie keeps the plot simple and familiar. At its most ordinary, this is a romance novel that doesn’t whitewash the persecution against German-Americans during WWI, at its best; Henrie offers a compelling look at the danger of xenophobia, especially during times of war.

This review first appeared in the November 2014 issue of Historical Novel Review. I received a copy of the book for the purposes of a fair review.

The Pelican Bride by Beth White (Gulf Coast Chronicles #1)

pelican brideIt is an age of exploration where men, out of greed or naked courage, fought for their own destinies and their women helped shape  a civilized community out of the marshes. Southern native Beth White is no stranger to the historical genre but she enters new territory with The Pelican Bride, the first in a series of romantic adventure novels set in eighteenth century French Louisiana.

Huguenots in flight, Geneviève Gaillain and her sister Aimée, escape France and journey to the New World where they’ve each agreed to marry a settler. As both girls wade through the murky waters of finding a good spouse and surviving the difficulties of Colonial life, the secrets they brought with them may drown the community.

Following the fates of the “Pelican Brides” of 1704, we discover with them the joys and disappointments of matrimony, and the faith and courage that is a lifeline in the midst of brutality and tragedy. In other words, this is not your typical mail order bride story. With a fast-paced plot full of dynamic characters inspired by the real settlers of the Gulf Coast (and a liberal dose of artistic license), White has fashioned a richly layered and engrossing tale.


This review first appeared in the August 2014 issue of Historical Novel Review. I received a copy of the book for the purposes of a fair review.

 

The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert

swan_gondolaThe World’s Fair of 1898 was the biggest thing to ever hit the Western town of Omaha. The Fair was held in conjunction with the Indian Congress and included a visit by President William McKinley and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Fair-goers flocked to Omaha from miles around, and with the promise of their purses came thieves, opportunists, prostitutes, and performers setting up shop along the fair’s Midway and the Grand Court.

When a hot air balloon stolen from the Fair crashes on the farmhouse of the Sisters Egan, they take in its injured pilot, Ferret Skerritt. Ferret, a ventriloquist and con, weaves them a tale of his grand love affair with Cecily, a beautiful actress closely guarded by a one-eyed witch. The deeper the sisters are drawn into his fable, the more the magic of the fair is unveiled, complete with spiritualists, masquerades, a Chamber of Horrors and other surprises.

The Swan Gondola is a beautiful portrayal of love and loss set against a glorious backdrop so vivid, it becomes an entire world. The Fair is described in such exquisite detail that you feel that you are walking along the colorful tents and booths of the Midway and sailing down the length of the 2000-ft. lagoon in a gondola on a moonlit night. Schaffert, a Nebraska native, takes some of his inspiration from Baum’s classic novel, The Wizard of Oz, and cheerfully admits to the allusions. Although this is not a retelling or an origin story, I enjoyed discovering the allusions for myself. Schaffert’s novel is a romantic, breathtaking work of literary fiction, and an absolute treat. Highly recommended.


This review first appeared in the February 2014 issue of The Historical Novel Review. I was provided with a copy of the book for the purpose of a review.

 

A Match of Wits by Jen Turano (Ladies of Distinction #4)

The Specs:

A MATCH OF WITS (Ladies of Distinction, Bk 4) by Jen Turano, Bethany House, 2014, $14.99, pb, 348pp, 9780764211270

match of witsThe Wild West had better watch out when Agatha Watson comes to town! Cooling her heels after a hot story earned her more than a few enemies, the last thing Agatha expected to uncover in the Colorado territory was Zayne Beckett, the man who broke her heart two years ago. Zayne is in no condition to be left on his own and since Agatha always knows best, she’s determined to bring Zayne with her back to New York, whether he likes it or not. But her time away hasn’t made her any less of a target and Zayne thinks he’s man enough to keep Agatha out of danger, but he didn’t count on risking his heart in the process.

Turano’s knack for comic timing shines in her latest book and many of the borderline absurd situations Agatha finds herself in are laugh-out-loud funny, especially if they involve a certain P-I-G named Matilda. In many ways, this feels like a series finale because we finally see how Agatha Watson and Zayne Beckett get together, but Turano keeps her options open with a new generation of irrepressible heroines waiting in the wings, who will be, perhaps, future leaders in the Progressive Era.


This review first appeared in the November 2014 issue of Historical Novel Review. I received a copy of the book for the purposes of a fair review.

Truth Be Told by Carol Cox

The Specs:

TRUTH BE TOLD
Carol Cox, Bethany House, 2014, $14.99, pb, 350pp, 9780764209574


truth be toldArizona Territory, 1893. Amelia Wagner loved the summers spent alongside her father, working at his newspaper business in Granite Springs, dedicated to bringing truth to light as the masthead states. So when it’s Amelia’s turn to take over the business, it comes natural to her to pick up her father’s investigation into the Great Western Investment Company. Befriended by Benjamin Stone, one of Great Western’s newest employees, has Amelia found an advantageously placed ally or are Benjamin’s attentions just a distraction? Because something is going on in Granite Springs and someone doesn’t want Amelia to learn the whole story.

Cox returns to her beloved Old West with another inspirational romance. Like her other novels, this one packs a lot of warmth, a dose of adventure, and humor, but the crisis is a bit too pitch perfect (real phrase?) for the genre – once you’re there, you know how it all plays out. With the investigative element in the plot, fans of Trouble in Store and Love in Disguise may also enjoy this latest offering by Carol Cox.

This review first appeared in the November 2014 issue of Historical Novel Review. I received a copy of the book for the purposes of a fair review.

Beauty and the Beast by Marianna Mayer

beauty and the beast_mayerBeauty and the Beast by Marianna Mayer, illustrations by Mercer Mayer

I’ve saved the best for last.

This is the book made me fall in love with fairy tales.

Mayer uses richly detailed paintings to illustrate this classic story of Beauty and the Beast, setting it somewhere in the medieval era. Mayer depicts the Beast’s strange and magnificent castle by including elements of Egyptian and Art Nouveau influences.

Mayer is a master at hair. It’s one of the little things that I love about this book from Belle’s father’s beard to the fur on the Beast’s cloak, and every single illustration that features Beauty close-up. Her hair is gorgeously done with the individual strands that are first lined and then filled in… it just looks so realistic. It’s beautiful.

Also, Beauty is a bibliophile and when she’s sitting in the tower, book in hand, so regal in her natural grace, posture and yes, her stunning jewelry, well, I just wanted to be her. Speaking of jewelry, I love the butterfly wing coronet in one scene, and the matching scarab brooch and ring in another.

Mayer juxtaposes Beauty’s life in the palace to the one she left behind. Small details in their home hint at the life she had with her brothers. There’s a lute and a skull in the house – who is the musician? Who loves the theatre? A crucifix on the wall hints at their faith.

There are some books that when you find them again, it is like you have re-discovered a great treasure. This is one of those books.

When I stumble across an original hardback copy of the 1978 classic, I stop and caress the dust jacket. Without opening its pages, I silently acknowledge the beauty within and should I linger, my heart begins to ache with the memory of a child who learned to love fairy tales, an ache that will only be satisfied by sitting down once more and beginning with these lines:

There once was a wealthy merchant who lived with his three daughters and three sons.

If you liked either of the books featured this week illustrated by Mercer Mayer, you may also like some of his other titles:

  • East of the Sun, West of the Moon
  • Favorite Tales From Grimm
  • Shibumi And The Kitemaker

You can learn more about the art of Mercer Mayer at: http://www.mercermayer.com/

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge (Cruel Beauty Universe)

cruel beauty_rosamund hodge

Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast in this sweeping fantasy about one girl’s journey to fulfill her destiny and the monster who gets in her way-by stealing her heart.

Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle-a shifting maze of magical rooms-enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex’s secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love. (Goodreads description)


The Specs
ISBN: 0062224735, hd, 352pp, 2014 Balzer + Bray


This was such a complex book. I really wanted to like it. I adore the “Beauty and the Beast” story too; it’s my all-time favorite fairy tale.  That doesn’t mean that I’m closed-minded about new interpretations, far from it.  That’s what storytelling is all about so when I heard there was going to be a new version released where Beauty (here called Nyx) is going to marry the Beast (a demon lord named Ignifex) and then try to kill him to save her people, I was like, “Yay!!!  They’re totally going to fall in love. Let’s do this!”

I know, I’m a little odd.

So this story is not only “Beauty and the Beast” but there’s also elements of “Bluebeard” and “Taming of the Shrew” too.  Ignifex’s castle is a labyrinth of locked rooms, some of which she has keys for and some that do not, and heaven help her if she finds a way into the rooms where she should not go.

I love that Nyx, who of course is intelligent, is almost an empowered heroine, educated and lethal.  Her anger and resentment towards her twin sister, Astraia, makes her more flawed and interesting.

Another element that I really liked was the presence of servants in Ignifex “The Gentle Lord”‘s castle.  In other iterations of B&B these servants are personified as magical, dancing objects, severed hands wielding candelabras or figures that move within paintings.  In Hodge’s universe, the servants are shadows, living under a cursed enchantment but still capable of expressing some emotions which Nyx uses as a way to alleviate her loneliness.  Great plot decision, loved it.

Okay, now for the bad.

What really bothered me the most about this novel (and why I rated it lower) is the conclusion of the book.  It felt rushed.  I was left feeling confused.  There was so much that was crammed in that I lost track of what was actually happening.  I rarely re-read a book when I’ve immediately finished it (though favs I’ll go to again and again). So, you’ve got to get my attention the first time around and Hodge lost me completely. I’m sorry!

Without giving away spoilers, I didn’t care for the way it wrapped up and was left feeling somewhat unsatisfied.  If you’ve read Cruel Beauty and you understand what I mean, or maybe you understood the conclusion better, or maybe you think I’m completely wrong, sound off here.

I’m willing to give the title another round, and a different rating.  So there you go. If you think Cruel Beauty deserves a higher rating, and another chance, let me know.  As it was, I was rather disappointed.

King Midas and the Golden Touch by Charlotte Craft

king midas_craftKing Midas and the Golden Touch, as told by Charlotte Craft, illustrated by K.Y. Craft (Morrow Junior Books)

I’ve always liked the story of King Midas which began as a Greek myth about a king who in his quest for gold, stands to lose everything he truly loves. What really stands out for me about this particular rendition are the beautifully detailed illustrations by Craft of a king in all his glory, and the apple of his eye, his daughter Aurelia.

I wish I knew why dogs played such a role in the background of Craft’s illustrations though. Just like in Sleeping Beauty, here too the castle is filled with canine companions which humanizes these graceful servants and royal occupants.

What makes King Midas an interesting figure compared to other fairy tale characters who falter – whether by greed or naiveté (ex: The Goose Girl), is that he pursues his own redemption. He isn’t condemned to his fate and he isn’t rescued from the outside.

While you can argue that the legend of King Midas isn’t a true fairy tale since it’s based on a Greek myth, I think that Craft really removes the story from its original setting and places it in its own time, creating a seamless meld between myth and fairy tale.

If you’ve built out your fairy tale collection with all the Disney basics, consider expanding your collection to include this version of King Midas by K. Y. Craft.

If you like these books illustrated by K.Y. Craft, you may also like her other titles:

  • Cinderella
  • Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave
  • Tom Thumb
  • The Twelve Dancing Princesses
  • Cupid and Psyche
  • Pegasus
  • Beauty and the Beast (not yet released!)

You can learn more about K.Y. Craft at her website: http://www.kycraft.com.