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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Bradstreet Gate

Graduating from Harvard often means that you will be starting a life of wealth and high pillars. The 1%. For the last four years, you’ve worked hard, studied hard…and of course, probably partied a little hard too. Graduation should be a celebration, you’ve done it! Life can begin.

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However, for Georgia, Charlie, and Alice…things didn’t quite go that way. Bradstreet Gate is the story of how their graduation year at Harvard went very wrong, when a classmate was murdered, allegedly by a professor they trusted.

My first thought when I started reading this book was, “Ok…this sounds an awful lot like How to Get Away with Murder.” And since I love that show…I was ok with it. Really though, it’s not at all the same plot, except the creepy teacher/student love affair thing.

Robin Kirman is going to be an author to watch–she writes characters brilliantly, on the same level as Gillian Flynn. There are two people here that I want to open their brains and just rummage around, to see what is going on. One is a textbook novel sociopath. That person is perfection–one that you love to hate immediately. The other will have you guessing the entire book. I am not going to tell you which is which because the kicker of these two characters is…which one actually committed the murder?

Bradstreet Gate‘s subtle creep factor just nails it the whole time. The story itself is wonderful, and then interwoven is this nagging feeling that you are being watched and studied. I kept thinking, “Why is this called a thriller? It’s really not that thrilling?” And then a chill would run down my spine out of nowhere. Oohhh, there it is.

Great debut, Robin Kirman. I’ll be looking for more from you!

 

Blogging for Books sent this to me for an unbiased review.

 

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The Deerslayer

Did you know that The Last of the Mohicans is actually a series? We see series all the time now, but we don’t think about them much back in the 1800s. Maybe they happened more than I realize. I’ve seen books with multiple volumes and one title, but this is the first I’ve seen in an actual series like this.

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James Fenimore Cooper wrote The Leatherstocking Tales about an adventurer called Natty Bumppo–a white man who was raised among the Delaware Indians in the what is now New York. Even though he was raised among the Native Americans, he loathes the idea of harming his own kind. He hunts (giving him the nickname of Deerslayer), but he does not like the idea of war. He crosses paths with two white men, Hurry Harry and Floating Tom who have taken up scalping for trade, and try to convince him to do it with them. He tries to convince them to stop, but they don’t listen and are trapped by the dangerous Huron tribe.

This book…I just…have really mixed feelings.

I liked Bumppo’s character. He’s a good man, and he just wants to be left alone in the woods. Also, he’s asexual. He has a chance to marry the beautiful girl, and he says, “Meh…no thanks, I think I’ll go back and head off back in the trees, but thanks. Let’s just be friends, k?” He joins the fight because he has to get the idiots out of danger, but I got the idea that it was really really complicated and was just messing things up for him. Towards the end, Judith asks him if he wanted to fight and he tells her that while he can now claim the title of Warrior, he hates it and fights only out of necessity.

Also, the descriptions of the land are beautiful. This is written by someone who has spent a great deal of time in upstate New York. My Coursera professor added this to our historical fiction syllabus–which is why I am reading it now–and he showed us a picture of the lake Cooper references. The details are perfect, down to the exact spherical boulder on the shoreline.

However, I struggled a great deal with the racial context. I think sometimes it is hard for me to remove myself culturally from what I know now about the struggles/pain white men have caused in this country. I’m not even sure if that sentence made any sense. But even though I know in my head that Cooper was using the terminology that his characters would have called “injins” and “red men,” it still just makes me cringe. Bumppo and Hurry Harry have a pretty heated debate about the differences between white men and red men–Bumppo is trying to convince Harry that all men are equal, even if culture and tradition is different–and it just gets really ugly. It hurts my heart to know that I could pick that conversation up, take out “red” put in “black” and drop that conversation pretty much anywhere in the US right now, and it would still fit exactly.

I don’t talk about that subject much, mostly because I don’t know what to say, and what I mean will never come out right. But that part of the book really got to me, and I couldn’t leave it out.

There isn’t much else–the book is a little hard to follow at times. It is pretty chaotic. People have multiple names and there isn’t a whole lot of setting buildup. This is one that I read Wiki before I reviewed to make sure I understood what I read. I’m not ashamed to admit it, people!

This isn’t really a book I’d recommend, unless you really like old adventure stories. But, I know I’m going to have to read The Last of the Mohicans at some point for the Boxall 1001, so I stuck it out.

Seriously though, I am going to make someone else write my TBR for September. Why did I do this to myself? WAR WAR WAR DEPRESSED WARWARWAR DARK WAR

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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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People Who Eat Darkness

Note to Self:  Don’t read true crime on Mondays.

Mondays are hard enough to get through in one piece anyway, and then I added one of the darkest books in recent memory to my it. Good job, Haley. National Day of Laziness, what?

I could give you a trigger warning list, here, but it would be really really long. Suffice it to say–if you are easily triggered…don’t read this book. Seriously, just don’t.

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21 year old Lucie Blackman–tall, blonde, beautiful–travels to Japan with her best friend Louise. The girls are looking to earn quick, easy money to pay off debts, so they take jobs as foreign “hostesses”–a type of waitress that lure wealthy businessmen in to clubs. These clubs charge exorbitant fees by the hour (not to mention the hefty bottle fees too), so the more friendly and captivating a hostess is, the better her bonus. Sounds like great money to the two outgoing girls, but the trip turns dark when Lucie goes on a dohan (a sort of sponsored date with one of the clientele) and does not return.

Richard Lloyd Parry tells the story of Lucie’s terrifying case–the search conducted by her friend and family, the frustration with a foreign police force, a profile on the suspect, and the resulting trial.

I found People Who Eat Darkness intriguing. I had found this book a while back on a “If you like Hannibal” shelf, and while I don’t normally read true crime (mostly because it can sometimes read like a report instead of a story), this one was very well written. Parry keeps a plot-like story line going throughout, so it doesn’t get too mundane. As I mentioned at the beginning, though, it is EXTREMELY dark, and it never recovers. There is no happy ending. I had to take breaks every chapter to read brown girl dreaming just so it did not consume me.

My other major note on this book is that there does seem to be a pretty heavy bias against Japanese culture, and not just against the rapist. I am unsure if Parry is just trying to convey the disdain that the family had against the situation Lucie was in, or if it was an overall bias against the culture itself. But the whole time I was reading, I almost felt like there was a nose-crinkling subtext. To be fair, Lucie was not in a great neighborhood or situation, maybe that’s all it was. She herself called her living situation “The Shithole.” The narration just felt a little off to me, that’s all.

While I am critical of that last part, and while the book was very dark, it was a captivating story. I can’t call the people characters, because they are real. However, Parry has given us such a illuminating picture of each that we almost know them. Even some of the “good guys” aren’t all that good, but the bad guy, you will need a shower after meeting him. He positively drips with slime.

I will agree with the bookstore–if you are a fan of Hannibal, add this one to your list. Just proceed with caution. And maybe have something a little mellow standing by that you can easily pick up between chapters. Or maybe Tumblr. It’s easy to get caught up turning pages here, but you will need a break. Otherwise, the darkness might just eat you, instead.

 

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