The Ciphers of Muirwood

Shortly after I posted my review for The Banished of Muirwood, I received an email from the publicist letting me know that the second book was up on NetGalley! That’s never happened before, so I immediately went and grabbed it! Absolutely, yes I want to read that second book, slam bam thank you ma’am!

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Jeff Wheeler’s first Covenant of Muirwood book just came out on August 18, so he is not wasting any time releasing these. From the sound of his Author Note, his third one is already in the works (and Goodreads says expected publication 2015), so I wouldn’t be surprised if it is already written. He’s even talking about a third trilogy! I really have got to get my hands on the first, and pronto!

I mentioned in my last write-up that the king seemed a bit like Henry VIII. This theme only gets more pronounced in The Cipher of Muirwood–in fact, it’s downright obvious that Henry was a major inspiration for Wheeler’s fantasy. He has banished his very devout daughter, Maia, and her mother (who is even named Catrin) so that he can marry a new heretic woman–very much an Anne Boleyn character, only with previous children of her own. There’s a slimey chancellor Crabwell who is a deadringer for Cromwell. And even a modest lady-in-waiting named Jayn Sexton that the king can’t seem to keep away from.

While I found those parallels amusing, they aren’t really the focus of the story at all. Just something fun for an Anglophile to pick apart. The real basis of the trilogy is the deep threads of a magical sect of religion that has been passed down to Maia through the maternal side of her family. The journey she takes in Banished brings her to Muirwood Abbey, where she must take her Maston test and fulfill her destiny. And she must do it quickly, before Whitsunday and the arrival of her father and a potential war.

My doubts about the slow start of the first book were completely dashed in this second one. I am almost jumping up and down with anticipation of the third, and if I didn’t already have a full pile of books on hold at the library right now, I’d probably see if they had the first trilogy. I may just have to buy it on my Kindle the next chance I get. Guys, if you love fantasy, you need to be reading Jeff Wheeler. Just do it.

 

Netgalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. Releases September 15 2015.

 

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The Sisters of Versailles

FINALLY! I broke my streak with war and nightmares. I really was not sure it was every going to end!

I have read dozens of books about Henry VIII and his scandalous court. Seemingly everyone has heard of his lustful boredom and endless pursuits. However, two centuries later, another king followed in his very sexed up shoes.

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King Louis XV of France–Louis the Beloved–ruled from 1710 to 1774. He was married to a Polish princess, but after seven years of marriage, he was becoming bored, and his advisers decided they needed to find a replacement close and quiet. According to Sally Christie in her new book The Sisters of Versailles, they found the perfect solution in Louise Nesle, serving as one of the Queen’s consorts.

However, because this is a scandal story, of course it doesn’t just stop there. There were five Nesle sisters. I’ll leave you to read what happens.

Christie’s historical fiction drips with so much sticky sweet scandal that you would think you were biting into a caramel apple (just keep it away from Diane, or she might snatch it from you). Every chapter holds a new drama–either a fight that is “not very sororal” according to the Nesle governess Zeilie, or littered with sexual innuendo so dirty even I couldn’t have come up with some of it. And that’s saying something. (I did make sure to take note of them…don’t you worry! clickFILEclick)

The Goodreads blurb states that these women have never before been written about in English, which devastates me, because I very much want to read more! Not that Sally Christie hasn’t done a fantastic job, because she has…but this is one of those sections of history I could get addicted to. It’s like a historical soap opera or reality show. Keeping Up with the Nesles. Now THAT is something I would watch! Oh man. Who do I talk to at HBO to do this?

Seriously though guys, if you like Philippa Gregory, Alison Weir, or Hilary Mantel…really any of the great scandal writers from Henry VIII’s court…you’re going to love this one. Same idea, different king. History really does repeat itself, doesn’t it?

 

Netgalley provided this ARC for an unbiased reviewReleases on September 1.

 

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The Middle of Somewhere

Do you ever begin a book thinking it is one thing, and it ends up being even BETTER THAN THAT? I mean, this is why we read, right? We may come across some duds, but it’s the really wonderful stories that keep us going.

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On Monday, I talked about how I go into most books blind–I don’t really want to know much about them before I begin. And that’s true, but when I got the request for Sonja Yoerg’s second book The Middle of Somewhere, and saw the cover, I knew immediately that I was interested. I have a thing for backpacking stories–fiction or nonfiction. I think it is the idea that everyone has a journey to go through in life, something they are either walking away from or walking toward, and the hike is a very real illustration of that. So I was very much looking forward to reading this one.

And The Middle of Somewhere started out pretty much like most backpacking novels do. Liz is turning 30, and she is struggling with commitment with her boyfriend Dante. She’s been planning this walk on the John Muir Trail for years, and is finally determined to do it–but instead of the lone ranger trip she had planned, Dante has decided at the last minute to join her. Not only does that delay her trip into a not very prime part of the season, but she also has some skeletons in her closet that she knows will come out during their three week hike…and she is not sure she is ready for that.

Once they get out on the trail, however, they meet an unexpected danger–more than rocks and bears and storms. Yoerg has written more than just a backpacker novel–she has given us a mountain thriller. Hiking in the mountains would be hard and scary enough, but Yoerg puts her characters in a situation where there is a crescendo threat to their lives. It gets creepier and creepier until it escalates to violence.

This was such a page turner that I finished it in one afternoon. I was excited to just read it as a backpacking story, but add the thriller component and Yoerg has a bestseller on her hands…at least in my opinion. In an environment where Eat, Pray, Love and Wild are so popular, I think her book will do really well, and she has added a special edge to separate herself from the pack. Big time yes from me!

 

NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. Releases September 1.

 

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Jade Dragon Mountain

When I looked at my TBR list the other day and realized that I am into my September ARCs already, I sat back onto my heels a bit. How are we already this late into the year? This weekend marked our one year anniversary in Dallas. We have been here for a WHOLE YEAR! What a ride it has been.

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I’ve had Jade Dragon Mountain in my queue for a long time…for some reason I received it way in advance. It felt strange to finally pick it up. This is Elsa Hart’s debut novel, and she has done a pretty decent job with it.

The story takes place in 1708 during the Qing Dynasty. Kangxi Emperor is passionate about astronomy and has calculated that an eclipse will be visible in Dayan. A festival is being prepared for his arrival. Li Du, an exile and imperial librarian, must visit his magistrate cousin on his way to Tibet, and arrives during the preparations. While he is there, a Jesuit priest is murdered, and Li Du sets out to find the killer before the emperor arrives.

Jade Dragon Mountain is part historical fiction, part Sherlockian mystery. I was fascinated by the Chinese lore and history–although most of the actual characters I think were made up, excepting the Emperor himself, the facts about the Jesuits and Kangxi’s fascination with astrology, all of that were real. A festival like this could have really happened. We are discussing this in my Coursera class–the art of historical fiction requires the author to stretch the truth just enough to convince the reader to believe the lie.

The mystery portion of the story was a bit of fun as well. It loops around and around, providing the bits of science and historical context, all while giving us a Sherlock/Watson kind of banter between Li Du and Hamza. Hamza is even a storyteller…which, hello, today he would TOTALLY be a blogger! *wink* Ok, maybe that part is a bit of a stretch, but I couldn’t help but make the jump. Fellow Johnlockers will understand.

Jade Dragon Mountain comes out September 1 and is bound to interest any fellow historical fiction lovers. It’s a great debut for Elsa Hart and I’ll be interesting to see what she comes up with next!

 

NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. Releases September 1.

 

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Reading as an Experience

When I approach a new book, I often know very little about it.

Many have been on my TBR for years–recommendations from acquaintances long forgotten–“Oh, you should read this!” Any one who finds out how much I read has a book for me, so it goes on The List. Bestsellers often end up on there, popular books making the rounds on Tumblr, and of course, the Boxall 1001. The List is over 3,000 titles long.

I will usually read a brief description of an ARC before I request it, but even then, it’s a month or two before I actually read it, since I prefer to wait until just before release to do the review. I have a general idea of most of the popular classic novels, but just an outline or topic. Only in the rare occasion that I really love the author and have been anxiously waiting a release, or it’s a book with a huge publicity push will I actually have a strong knowledge base before beginning.

Why do I do so little research about the books I read? Two simple reasons.

  1. I read almost a book a day. At that volume, it would be impossible for me to read pre-reviews on every single book. Nope, can’t do it.
  2. The biggest reason, though, is that I’d much rather go into a book blind. That way, every twist and turn is new, every character I meet is unexpected. It’s the same reason I often don’t watch every movie trailer anymore. I want to experience the book fresh. Sometimes with ARCs I hardly even pay attention to who the author is. I take notes with my reactions, mark down quotes, etc. With difficult books, I will often Wiki it, to make sure I am understanding what is happening–though I don’t usually do that until later in the story, or afterwards, unless I am really confused.

Reading for me is an immersive experience, and I try to get as much out of it as possible. It is enjoyable, but it is no longer just a hobby. I learn a great deal from the books I read, and so I have expanded the breadth of what I am taking in.

I’ve discussed this multiple times here before–how much I read, what I read, how I do it. I won’t get into that now. But learning is important to me, and I get really excited about it.

 

However, I’ve had a few conversations about reading as an experience this week. Not everyone reads the same way I do. And you know what, THAT IS OK!

I had one conversation where we geeked out about the toxic relationships in Wuthering Heights and analyzed the perception of that novel as a romance vs what the book really is. We talked about how we think all classics are well-written because the language is so much different than modern day English, but in reality, the authors fought with each other about their writing style as much as we do now.

But you know what also makes me really excited? Talking to someone who struggled with reading for years, hating it because they had trouble with dyslexia or any other reading disorder. But then someone gave them Harry Potter (or Twilight or Percy Jackson or INSERT BOOK HERE) and it opened up words for them. And it may take them a month to read one book but now they can do it and we can geek out together about our favorite stories. And it has nothing to do with the great masters of writing or the state of the world. It’s just words on a page that fit together to make a story that we all can share.

 

My point is this–read what you like. For years I read Nora Roberts and Rachel Gibson smut. I read every JD Robb In Death book in order for like 4-5 years. Maybe longer. That’s no longer my thing, but if it’s yours GREAT! If you’re an adult who loves YA, thumbs up. If you’re a kid who likes adult fiction, YES! Comics, newspapers, magazines, shampoo bottles? Done.

I’m kind of joking about the shampoo bottles, but I can’t say I haven’t done it when there’s nothing else in the bathroom.

Paperbacks, hard covers, ereaders, audiobooks. All valid sources. Guys, let’s stop arguing about what people like to read, and get excited about everyone who loves it as much as we do. Bookworms have gotten made fun of since the beginning of time. Let’s not beat up on each other too.

I firmly believe that reading is a process. It starts with that first book we fall in love with, and we just keep going. Every next book drags us a little further down the line. Maybe one day we step out from our normal genre into something new. Maybe next time it’s a bit more advanced than what we are used to. That process can be fast, or it may take a long time and be really gradual–and it may change hardly at all. My grandfather read Westerns his entire life…until the last year or two when he started reading Amish Christian fiction. So don’t let me or anyone else pressure you to step outside your comfort zone, but I do encourage it, when you’re ready.

There is a whole world of books out there! And you know I have a full List of recommendations for you!

Happy reading everyone!

The Banished of Muirwood

I don’t know if you have noticed but I have been reading some pretty HEAVY stuff lately. Four of the reviews I’ve done this month have had the word “dark” in them. Two of the others have been about war. Whoa, Haley. I think it’s time to back read something lighthearted, and soon.

You guys ok, out there? Sorry for all the doom and gloom! It wasn’t on purpose, I promise!

I’d love to tell you this review is better…but, it’s another book of war. *grimaces* Sorry….but it is a magical war, so that has to count for something. Stick with me.

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Jeff Wheeler apparently woke up from a dream one night with a girl in his head. He luckily had paper in his nightstand and ferociously began scribbling about her evil father and the man hired to protect her. Since then, he’s written stories about his world of Muirwood, but is finally releasing Maia’s story.

Maia is born princess to a king who doesn’t quite know how to handle his own power. He’s almost a Henry VIII kind of guy, and banishes her mother so he can take on another queen and thus another kingdom. In doing so, he must banish Maia and disown her, even as he claims he loves her. Along her path, Maia finds herself with a great deal of magic, and even greater trouble.

While this is definitely fantasy, Wheeler built his world of Muirwood upon a base of real ancient history references. Or, at the very least, references to places from real authors. There is a character, “the kishion,” which when I Googled, pointed to Kadesh in Galilee. Another reference, “aurichalcum” is a metal Plato references when he talks about Atlantis (obviously that one is more about the author than the place). There’s a few more things that build upon ancient Greek culture or works. I mention this because while the premise for the story came from a dream, and there were certainly made up places, names, and language in the book–it was obvious to me while reading that Wheeler had done quite a bit of research before sitting down to write. I would be so interested to see his notes. It fascinates me how authors create and build their ideas and from where they pull inspiration.

I will say, that at first I was unsure about the writing. Maia was banished, running, in obvious danger. Then she just shows up at a random inn and the hunter she needs is at that exact place (very Strider from LOTR), and she just gives him her full name, title, problem, all of it. And he agrees to help her with no suspicion or confirmation whatsoever. Well, ok then! There were a lot of holes in the first 10% of the book. It made me a little weary.

However, shortly after I made that note in my journal, the book picked up and I started getting answers pretty quickly. Maia is still pretty naive, really throughout the whole book. But, I think that’s more of a character flaw than a writing issue, once I got into the meat of the story. Give it a chance past the first 20%, it’s a slow starter, but it does become a valid fantasy after that. I’ve added the rest of his Muirwood history to my TBR–I am wondering if those would help the beginning holes at all. Sounds like he’s also working on a second book to Maia’s story, woot!

NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. To be released on August 18.

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In a Dark, Dark Wood

Bachelorette Parties.

Everyone has a story about one, don’t we? There’s even movies about them now. That one last weekend of drunken madness before the wedding.

Usually those stories are laughable–who kissed the most random guys at the bar, or who drank a few too many shots and ended up with their skirt outside of their panties. Oops!

But every once in awhile…Bachelorette Parties–or Hen Nights–can turn quite ugly.

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Ruth Ware writes about one such Hen Night way out In a Dark, Dark Wood. Nora finds out her high school best friend is getting married, and while she isn’t invited to the wedding (strange), she is invited to the party (stranger). She’s curious enough to join in, mostly to find out what exactly is going on with Clare and why she suddenly wants to get back in touch. Instead of the fun, girly weekend she expects, however, it turns into a horrific nightmare.

From the beginning, Ware sets up the suspense by making Nora out to be slightly unstable. We don’t know exactly what happened in her past until the end, so she comes across as more than a little neurotic. The tension between the two ex-friends builds layer upon layer, and she also uses flash-forward plot separations to really beef up the upcoming thrill.

When you get drunk on Hen Night, secrets come out. And bad things can happen when they do. Lucky for us…those bad things make great books. It’s released today, so go check it out!

 

NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. Releases on July 30.