Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What I'm Reading

Currently Reading

Boston and the Civil War / Barbara Berenson – my talented friend Barbara has followed up her successful Walking Tours of Civil War Boston with a book that reveals to Revolutionary War-obsessed fans that Boston was actually the hub of a second revolution that ended slavery.  My mother has a friend who is a descendant of William Lloyd Garrison so I was always aware of the role of the abolitionists – this provides a close look at those "dedicated to ending slavery and honoring the promise of liberty made in the Declaration of Independence."
Divergent / Veronica Roth – although tired of dystopian novels and unable to get into this in print form, I was curious enough to try it on CD a year later, and am now enjoying it (although why do heroines have to get beat up so frequently in this type of novel?).

Country of Broken Stone / Nancy Bond  - Next week I am heading to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to visit Fort Louisbourg, the setting of Bond’s Another Shore, which shows what a big fan I am of this talented Massachusetts author.  Somehow I had been unaware of this book, set near Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland, about a girl dealing with a new stepmother and stepsiblings.  Bond is gifted at making historical places seem magical.

In preparation for the Starz adaptation, I reread Outlander / Diana Gabaldon, which is just as amazing as when I first snagged an ARC on my last day at Bantam Doubleday Dell in 1991 (and after numerous previous rereads).  Of course, that meant I had to reread Dragonfly in Amber (despite all the library books waiting for me), and I just reclaimed my copy of Voyager (book 3) from my mother.  Here is a link to the forthcoming miniseries - I have put away my usual skepticism because it really appears to be a good and respectful production. The production company has really chosen actors who look the part, even if Jamie's hair isn't as red as I expected.

Just Finished

The Eyre Affair / Jasper Fforde – a belated thank you to Sessalee Hensley who gave me a copy of this book when it was brand new.  Somehow I got distracted; perhaps I found the beginning slow or maybe I was in the middle of law school exams.  However, once it got going I was completely captivated.  I would describe it as the Phantom Tollbooth for grownups, and what higher compliment could there be?

We Were Liars / E. Lockhart – which I liked but did not love.   Intriguing but ultimately too much prolonged melancholy and the ending seemed abrupt.  I didn't like the characters and maybe I just don’t care for unreliable narrators.   I prefer her Ruby books and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau but admire her for trying something new.

I’ve Got You Under My Skin / Mary Higgins Clark – predictable but this was a good book to listen to on CD during a stressful week because it was extremely repetitive (you would think she was writing a Dickensian serial) and undemanding.  However, the characters were mostly unlikeable and the killer unconvincing.  Not one of her best.

(Outlander image copyright to Starz)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Mackenzie's Cross (Book Review)

Publication Information: Topaz Publishing, 2013, ebook and paperback
Genre: Historical Romance
Setting:  Medieval England
Plot: Mackenzie, a modest kitchen maid in the household of the Duke Kensington, is plunged into intrigue when the Duke is murdered.  Her only friend, Adilla, the head cook (think Daisy and Mrs. Patmore), is arrested so Mackenzie is forced to seek answers among the nobility, most of whom regard her with suspicion.  Only visiting knight, Sir Patrick of Chester, trusts Mackenzie enough to join her in seeking answers.

Audience:  The style and prose seems more targeted to a teenage audience than the adult historical romance market, although the plot involves torture, betrayal and violent death.  The heroine’s sweet personality and determined loyalty might be appealing to teens who should appreciate the mixture of romance and suspense.

What I liked: Barthel does a good job depicting the busy life of a castle, although I doubt kitchen maids had as much free time and privacy as Mackenzie.  And everyone enjoys a plucky heroine! My two favorite characters were the young squire, John of Chester (despite his anachronistic comment, “I don’t believe in treating the lower classes like they are  -- well, lower.  They are the foundation we stand upon.”), who befriends Mackenzie in the kitchen and his older brother, Sir Patrick.

What I disliked: I felt there were some holes in the plot and at time the heroine was irritatingly na├»ve.  Mackenzie suspects the Duke was murdered, thus believes a killer is on the loose, but persists in confiding in the wrong people and wandering around alone, outspoken and vulnerable.  Also, why is the Duke of Kensington referred to as Duke Kensington (none of the dukes in this book get an ‘of’)?  Why isn’t his wife the Duchess instead of Lady Evelyn (just an error in title usage?)?  Who was Mackenzie’s father?  Is it likely a group of jealous nobles would accept a bastard daughter as heiress to a deceased duke than his legal wife?  Admittedly, I am sure they would prefer to usurp the land or marry the widow or daughter to acquire it more conventionally.  There is also a confusing subplot involving a character with leprosy, except that it turns out she doesn’t have leprosy.  I was hoping the leper would be revealed as Mackenzie’s mother, which would have made just as much sense as the inadequate explanation of her origins.

Source:  I received this book from the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours and urge you to stop by the tour to learn more about the author and see what other bloggers had to say about this book.   You can also purchase the book:

Amazon CA (Kindle)
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Barnes & Noble 
Book Depository

Virtual Book Tour Schedule:

Monday, May 12
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective
Tuesday, May 13
Excerpt at Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday, May 14
Review at SOS Aloha
Friday, May 16
Spotlight at Passages to the Past
Wednesday, May 21
Guest Post at Just One More Chapter
Thursday, May 22
Excerpt at Let Them Read Books
Monday, May 26
Review at Book Nerd
Friday, May 30
Guest Post at Susan Heim on Writing


To win one of two copies of Mackenzie’s Cross, please complete this form: Rafflecopter giveaway.  Giveaway is open internationally but ends at 11:59pm on June 4th so enter quickly. You must be 18 or older to enter.  Winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter on June 5th and notified via email.  Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.