What’s Ashley Reading?: Time’s Convert

The last several months have been filled with the project of weeding and shelf reading the juvenile non-fiction books.  This is quite a daunting task since there are TONS of books!  I was ready to take on the challenge though.  As I have been working my way through the Dewey decimal system I have found some very interesting books.  Even though they are titles geared towards children there is so much good information to be found here.  And the fact that kids LOVE to check these out is wonderful!  If you have not browsed our children’s non-fiction titles you definitely should.

I am someone who likes to learn a little bit while I read.  Before I started working at the library I read mainly historical fiction.  I love learning about the history of people and places.  Deborah Harkness’s newest book, Time’s Convert, is my latest historical fiction but with a fantasy twist.

*May contain spoilers if you have not read the All Souls Trilogy!*

Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness

First line: On her last night as a warmblood, Phoebe Taylor had been a good daughter.

 Summary: In continuation of her best-selling series, Deborah Harkness takes us on an adventure spanning from the American Revolution to modern day as we follow the early days of vampires, Phoebe Taylor and Marcus MacNeil.  Marcus grew up in time of great change.  He saw the birth of a new country but when he meets Matthew de Claremont on the fields of battle his life was changed forever.  Phoebe, an art dealer and Marcus’s fiancé, has made the decision to become a vampire.  In the early days after her rebirth, she learns that her journey to immortality is not any easier than it was for Marcus.

 Highlights: I love Harkness and her writing.  It is immediately engaging.  I read the All Souls Trilogy several years ago which made the details of the story a little fuzzy.  However, as I started this newest installment she gave tidbits that helped me remember more of the previous novels storyline.  I was worried that in this new book I would not get to revisit characters like Matthew and Diana because the story focused on Marcus and Phoebe but Harkness must have known I would always want more of them.  She alternates her chapters between the characters and plot lines.  We jump from eighteenth century to the twenty-first and back again.

I have been fascinated with the American Revolution since middle school.  I was pleased that Marcus’s story took us back to the American colonies and the fight for liberty.  I enjoyed reading as Marcus met famous people of the time including the Marquis de Lafayette.  After seeing Harkness at a Watermark event a few years back, I learned that her focus of study is on the history of science.  It really comes through during this time when Marcus, as well as the nation, is dealing with a small pox epidemic.  The history of inoculations for the disease was fascinating and fit perfectly into the story.  I am so glad that small pox is not something that we have to worry about now because it looks truly frightening!

Phoebe is a character that I vaguely remember from the trilogy but I cannot say that I felt too strongly about her.  In this book, she has a fascinating story.  I loved seeing her progress as she fought her urges and dealt with the new strengths.  Her first night out in the world interesting.  In addition, her preference for the blood of middle-aged white women definitely made me laugh aloud!

Matthew and Diana’s twins were probably my favorite part of the story.  Each of them have their own traits from both their mother and father.  Watching their parents try to figure out how to deal with a daughter who drinks blood and son who can weave spells was entertaining.  I do not want to give too much away but I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

 Lowlights: I wish I could get more Gallowglass!  He makes a few appearances but not enough for me.  Maybe the next book?!  Please Deborah!!

 FYI: Lots of blood, violence, magic and some sexual situations.

*I do not think it is a must but I would recommend reading her All Souls Trilogy, starting with A Discovery of Witches before picking this one up.*

Book Review: Catwoman: Soulstealer

Catwoman: Soulstealer by Sarah J. Maas

First line: The roaring crowd in the makeshift arena didn’t set her blood on fire.

Summary: Selina Kyle lives in the slums of Gotham City. In order to take care of her ailing sister she enters the underground-fighting ring of Carmine Falcone. However, when the chance for a better life for her sister comes along she takes it even if it means she has to sacrifice everything. Two years later, she returns to Gotham in order to bring her own brand of justice to the city that let her down.

Batwing, the secret identity of Luke Fox, is doing his best to keep the streets of Gotham safe for its people. When a new villain arrives and starts wreaking havoc on the city, he realizes that he may have met his match in Catwoman.

Highlights: Sarah J. Maas is one of my favorite young adult authors. She writes great stories with interesting characters and lots of action. I have never been a big fan of Catwoman (other than in the show Gotham) but since Maas was writing her story, I decided to give her a try. I am glad I did.

We get a backstory for Selina that helps flesh out her character and give her a reason for her villainy. This is one of the reasons I have enjoyed the TV show Gotham because we get to see how our villains came to be. I loved the inclusion of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy as her sidekicks/cohorts. Their brand of chaos and camaraderie was fun to read.

I had never heard of Batwing and therefore had to Google his character. Even though I have seen most of the movies and TV shows in the DC universe there is still so much I do not know. I am slowly wanting to pick up some of the graphic novels and comic books here at the library and get to know the stories better. I am looking forward to the next in the DC Icons series, Superman: Dawnbreaker, coming out in March 2019.

Lowlights: I wish we could have gotten more of the Joker. He is mentioned several times and Selina met him once. He is such an iconic DC villain and with Harley in the story, it would make sense. But maybe one day we will get a Joker book?!

FYI: If you like this try Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo and Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu.

Book Review: Sea Witch

Sea Witch by Sarah Henning

First line: Two small pairs of boots echoed on the afternoon cobblestones—one pair in a sprint, the other in a stumble and slide.

Summary: We all know the story of the little mermaid who falls in love with a prince but what we do not know is what happened before. After the disappearance of her friend, Evie continues to blame herself. However, when a young girl suddenly appears in their city who has a striking resemblance to Anna, Evie believes that miracles do come true. This stranger though has a few secrets. She must gain the love of the prince within four days or disappear into the ocean forever.

Highlights: The cover art is stunning with its mysterious purple eyed witch. I did not even have to read the synopsis before I knew that I wanted to read this. I loved watching The Little Mermaid growing up! My cousins and I would pretend to be mermaids while swimming at the pool. The sea witch was always very creepy and now we get her back-story! The history of the country and its culture was very interesting. The reliance on fishing and the sea is something I am not familiar with (being from Kansas). My favorite part was the flashbacks to when Anna went missing in the sea. It gave us a look at who our characters are and what drives them.

The sea is a fickle witch.”

Lowlights: There are some dark elements to the story but they do not appear until the end of the story. I expected a little bit more since we were getting the back-story of a villain. And the narrative was very much young adult. They are teenagers who are worried about falling in love. Ok, great. But I want more sea witch!

FYI: This is a debut novel for Kansas author, Sarah Henning!

Book Review: Grace and Fury

Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart

First line: Serina Tessaro stood on the steps of the fountain in Lanos’s central piazza flanked by nine other girls her age, all in their finest gowns.

Summary: In Viridia girls are not allowed to read, they must be subservient and bend to the will of men. When sisters, Serina and Nomi, are sent to the palace with a chance of being a Grace and her handmaiden, Serina sees this as a chance to take care of her family. However, when the Heir chooses her younger rebellious sister, Nomi, as a Grace instead, their worlds are changed forever. When Nomi breaks the rules, being able to read, and her sister is the one who takes the blame and is sent to the women’s prison on the isolated island of Mountain Ruin. Nomi has to learn to be a Grace while living under the roof of the Superior while Serina is forced to fight for survival.

Highlights: I found this very enjoyable. I would classify it as a dystopian novel. Going into it, I thought there would be an element of fantasy to it. To tell the truth I was fine without it. It was good straightforward story. I liked the relationship between the two sisters. They truly care about each other and are willing to sacrifice themselves to save the other one. So many stories are centered on romance but this was sisterly love. Each sister had their own strengths that sets them apart. The action was well done. Not overly gruesome or gory. The cover art is beautiful. I enjoyed the supporting characters such as Maris, Malachi and Jacana. I am hoping that we get to see more of them as the story goes on. I raced through the ending. It was fast and gave a cliffhanger that leaves me wanting more!

Lowlights: Several plot lines were predictable. There were similarities between other books of this genre. Even with the similarities, I did not feel like I was reading a rewrite of another novel.

FYI: Perfect for readers of The Selection by Kiera Cass and Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard.

Book Review: The Masterpiece

The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis

First line: Clara Darden’s illustration class at the Grand Central School of Art, tucked under the copper eaves of the terminal, was unaffected by the trains that rumbled through ancient layers of Manhattan schist hundreds of feet below.

Summary: For Clara, a struggling artist and illustration teacher, Grand Central School of Art is a stepping stone in the hopes of greater things to come. She has dreams of working for Vogue as an illustrator. By moving to New York City, she left behind everything but so far, things have not turned out the way she had planned.

After her divorce, Virginia Clay has been trying to figure out how to support herself and her daughter after spending years as the wife of a powerful attorney. When she gets a job at Grand Central Terminal in the information booth, she does not realize how much it will change her life. She discovers a watercolor behind a cabinet in the old art school and it leads her on search for the artist and the history of the terminal.

Highlights: I really enjoyed the character of Levon. He was fiery and temperamental. He portrays the iconic angsty artist. He had a rich back-story and little quirks that made him stand out. I wish that he were a real person so I could see some of the work that Davis describes in her novel.

The descriptions of Grand Central were amazing. Google is my best friend when reading historical fiction. I am always pausing my reading to search for pictures or more information about places and characters. It is sad that the terminal was in such bad shape in the 70s and that at one point it was going to be torn down. I have never traveled to NYC but I have seen the station at Kansas City and if it is half as pretty as that, it would have been a shame to lose it.

I have enjoyed the time jumps in Davis’ work. I think the thing that makes her work so great. She is able to switch between characters and time while keeping the flow of the story. I have not read her second book, The Address, yet but I am on hold for it now.

Lowlights: The beginning was a little slow to start. Davis gave us some background on the characters plus some information about the time. Then the speed of the relationships went very fast. I was a little shocked by Virginia early on but she grew on me as I continued to read. One scene in particular stood out between Virginia and Dennis.

FYI: If you like this try the novels of Susan Meissner.

Book Review: An Unwanted Guest

An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

First line: The road curves and twists unexpectedly as it leads higher and deeper into the Catskill Mountains, as if the farther you get from civilization, the more uncertain the path.

Summary: For the guests of Mitchell’s Inn in the Catskill Mountains it looks like a beautiful winter weekend. However, when a body of one of the guests is found at the bottom of the stairs on the first morning things become less idyllic. Add to that a power outage from an ice storm and the guests begin to fear for their safety since there appears to be a murderer staying at the hotel.

Highlights: I recently read And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. As I started reading An Unwanted Guest I was comparing the two novels. A remote location, a group of strangers, no way to leave and murder! How can you not go wrong with a combination like this? I found the story fun and engaging. Each character was interesting and had little secrets of their own. The idea of being stuck in a hotel with strangers and no electricity while a murderer is on the loose is a bit terrifying. I wish I could have read this during the winter wrapped in a blanket. I liked the atmosphere and suspense. This was a quick read and lots of fun.

Lowlights: I was a little shocked by the ending. However, I thought that when the killer was revealing everything it was a little rushed and quickly thrown together. It did not seem like it was planned out or given too much thought.

FYI: Read the author’s other two books, The Couple Next Door and A Stranger in the House.

Book Review: Believe Me

Believe Me by J.P. Delaney

First line: On the day of departure, guests are requested to vacate their rooms by noon.

Summary: When British acting student, Claire, is struggling for money to pay rent she starts work at a decoy for a law firm in order to entrap straying husbands. However, on her last job the wife ended up dead the next day. In order to find out who the killer is they ask Claire to try to get a confession out of the husband. As she immerses herself into her character, the lines between the act and reality begin to blur.

Highlights: In the second novel by J.P. Delaney we get a twisty psychological thriller. I was certain I had the story figured out. I was wrong. There were so many decoys and little tidbits that make the reader believe one thing when it can mean something completely different. The story was FAST! I could not believe how quickly I read this and how hard it was to put down. I loved being inside Claire’s head even though it got a little troublesome at times. The way she viewed everything as a production was a fun styling choice for the author.

Lowlights: I do not believe there were many lowlights other than the fact that it is not something new or astounding. It is a great read but it is not groundbreaking. Enjoy it but do not look for the next Gone Girl.

FYI: Try Delaney’s first book, The Girl Before.

Book Review: The Romanov Empress

The Romanov Empress by C.W. Gortner

First line: “We should dress alike,” I said on that afternoon when life changed forever.

Summary: In the latest historical novel by C.W. Gortner, we get the story of Minnie, the mother of the last tsar of Russia. Minnie is a princess of Denmark and destined to marry for an alliance. That marriage is to the future tsar of Russia, Alexander III. However, when trouble strikes the country the new tsar and tsarina must find a way to navigate the changing political climate before the country revolts. When Alexander dies unexpectedly, leaving their inexperienced son, Nicholas as tsar, Minnie must try to guide him before they lose their country forever.

Highlights: I found Minnie to be a fascinating woman. I knew next to nothing about her other than what is portrayed in the movie, Anastasia.  (She is the grandmother who is desperately searching to find out if her son, Nicholas, and his family survived the Russian Revolution). She sounds like a strong woman who had to try to survive in a very turbulent time. Russia has always been a country with struggles and that fact that she lived through them shows how smart she really was.

“I’d finally found the means to be useful to my adopted country, to give back to Russia something of what she’d given to me.”

It was difficult to keep track of all the relationships and marriages. I was constantly checking family trees and Wikipedia to figure out which character was which and how they played into the story of the Romanovs. Even knowing how the story ends, the Russian Revolution, I kept hoping for better for them.

Gortner does an amazing job of describing the opulence of the Romanov court. I would love to see the Winter Palace and St. Petersburg. There is so much history and culture in Russia. However, the riches and luxury that the tsar and his court lived in is hard to imagine. How can someone live like that? It just boggles the mind. It is easy to see why the peasants revolted. They were starving while the royal family drank champagne.

I remember when reading other novels about the Romanovs, that Alexandra was not very well liked.  Gortner gives us a look into why.  She seemed shy and anxious.  But Minnie, as dowager empress with lots of experience with the Russian people, tried to teach her how to act and gain their respect.  Their relationship was very volatile.  It was sad to see how much dislike there was between the two women.

Throughout the novel I was thrilled to see how well the author brought the history to life.  This is one of the best written historical novels I have read in a long time.

Lowlights: Do I have to have any lowlights? I think not. This book was great. Historical fiction is and always will be my favorite genre.

FYI: Perfect for readers of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir.

Book Review: Spinning Silver

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

First line: The real story isn’t half as pretty as the one you’ve heard.

Summary: When Miryem takes over her father’s money lending business she excels at it. She has a talent for making silver into gold. Slowly bringing her family out of poverty, she garners a reputation but it may not be as all she thought it would be. She draws the attention of the Staryk king, a creature of ice and cold who preys on the people of Vysnia.

Highlights: This book is beautiful! It has classic fairy tale themes, Rumpelstiltskin, and the feeling of a Russian folktale. I wish that I had read this in the dead of winter because it is very atmospheric. The story is dark and rich. So much detail and story is packed into it that it takes a while to digest. This is not a summery beach read but one that needs to be savored.

There are at least six points of view throughout the plot and each character has a symbol to represent them. It is a nice touch to separate the narratives. Each character brings their own voice and thoughts to the story. Miryem is the moneylender’s daughter who is stolen away by the Staryk king. Wanda, the servant girl, gives us a peak into the prejudices of the village folk but also the wonder of girl who has been given a chance to better herself. Her younger brother, Stepon, is the innocent who watches and does not completely understand what is happening around him. Irina, the daughter of a duke, has been forgotten and neglected until her father hatches a plan to ensnare the Tsar and therefore putting her in danger. The young tsar, Mirnatius, has a dark secret. And finally Magreta, the nurse who raised Irina and is determined to keep her young charge safe.

With so many plot lines intertwining you would think it would get confusing but it does not. They all come together and conclude the story. The last few chapters are fast paced and the perfect way to end. Be prepared to spend time with these characters in this world. It is a hearty read but worth it.

The Staryk was a tale for a winter’s night.

Lowlights: I love the detail of the story and the characters. Every few chapters though felt a little longer than they needed to be. I am a fan of short chapters so when one stretched on for 50+ pages it took me a little longer to get through.

FYI: Read Uprooted by Naomi Novik. It is fantastic! It is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast which is my favorite fairy tale.

Book Review: The Haunted Queen

Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir

First line: “A health to the bride!”

Summary: Jane Seymour is the daughter of knight. With aspirations of becoming a nun, she did not consider that life at court was in her future. However, when her plans to join a nunnery change she joins the household of Queen Katherine, the wife of Henry VIII. Jane is devoted to the queen so when a maid of honor, Anne Boleyn, starts to attract the king, Jane must decide where her loyalties lie. When Anne becomes queen, Jane is forced to serve her. As Anne’s power wanes the king’s eye begins to stray. Jane becomes the focus of his attention and his future queen.

Highlights: Weir’s portrayal of Jane Seymour is the best one I have read. Jane is a very boring queen. She has very little time to establish herself in history but what we know of her is that she was meek and obedient. At least this is what we assume but in The Haunted Queen we get a little bit of fire injected in to her character. She has opinions, thoughts and questions. Even though she is afraid to voice them, we as the reader get a look into her mind and see more than the quiet mouse she is remembered as.

Lowlights: I felt that more of the book was centered around Anne Boleyn (who is my favorite of Henry’s wives). We see the events unfold through Jane’s eyes but not much about Jane herself. Which leaves a small portion at the end of story to center around her time as queen.

FYI: Weir does a great job so far on each of the queens. Check out Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen and Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession to read the first two books in the series.