What’s Ashley Reading?: An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason

Some of the classics are hard to read.  Either we do not understand the language or the story is not as fast paced as the latest thriller.  However, there are so many great things about them.  They have survived the times.  The stories still speak to readers today.  One of greatest is the bard, William Shakespeare.  I read several plays during high school English, my favorite being Hamlet.  Do you have trouble with Shakespeare?  Trust me sometimes I do too.  Check out Alyssa’s blog post about her recent interest in the works of Shakespeare.

An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason by Virginia Boecker

First line: It is not the usual interrogation.

Summary: When Katherine’s father is killed in front of her she vows that she is going to take revenge on the person responsible, Queen Elizabeth I. She travels to London dressed as a boy to meet with fellow Catholic conspirators to hatch a plan to kill the Protestant queen. Toby, an agent of the queen, is on the lookout for any assassination plots. When he teams up with William Shakespeare and his company of players, he sets a trap for the would-be assassins. However, Katherine and Toby are drawn to each other complicating both of their missions.

Highlights: Assassination plots and William Shakespeare?! Yes please! I found the story to be lots of fun from the very beginning. I enjoyed both of the main characters. Katherine is a strong willed young girl who is determined to avenge her father. Toby is a heartbroken playwright working as a spy for the queen. I loved watching Katherine throwing off her inhibitions as she took on the role of a man. She gets to see things that women would not be privy to normally. As their relationship progresses I got more and more nervous about how the story would end. This story was fit for Shakespeare with the mistaken identities, daring murder attempts and tragic love.

Lowlights: I would have loved more Shakespeare. Any time he entered the story it became even better! His patron even mentioned how he liked to make up words, which he does throughout the story. Such a nice little historical tidbit to add into the dialog.

FYI: Perfect for fans of A Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

There are many different versions of Frankenstein.  They range from the classic film with Boris Karloff to hilarious Young Frankenstein starring Gene Wilder.  It has been 200 years since his first appearance.   What fascinates us with this monster? 

On a trip to Germany in 2002, my family and our German family visited Frankenstein Castle outside of Darmstadt, Germany.  Even though it is not the actual home of the monster it is still very formidable.  I could easily picture the Gothic tale happening in the ruins.

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White

First line: Lightning clawed across the sky, tracing veins through the clouds and marking the pulse of the universe itself.

Summary: In this retelling of Mary Shelley’s classic novel, Frankenstein, we see the story unfold through the eyes of the Frankenstein family’s ward, Elizabeth. She is brought to Frankenstein manor as a playmate and helper to the strange eldest son, Victor. As they grow up the two become dependent on each other. However, when Victor disappears with no word, Elizabeth must search for him and bring him home. When she finally finds Victor, she learns the truth of what he has been doing those many months he has been gone. She has kept his secrets for years but can she keep this one?

Highlights: Kiersten White did a great job of fleshing out the story and adding to the original. I think that she made it even darker than the original. Which I really loved. I liked the character of Elizabeth. She was secretive, cunning and not shocked by the things that Victor did. For a woman of the time she relied on the men in her life. She tried to guarantee that she would be taken care of by any means necessary.

Lowlights: I read Frankenstein several years ago and was not as impressed as I had wanted to be. I love to read classics. I love Dickens and Stoker. I listened to the audio version and it was rather slow moving for the first two thirds. There is more description and little conversation. The last third was more engaging and fast paced. I would recommend reading this one instead of listening to the audio.

FYI: If you love Frankenstein then you should read this!

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: 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 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: 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.

Book Review: The Last Time I Lied

The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

First line: This is how it begins.

Summary: When Emma Davis is asked to return to Camp Nightingale it brings many memories and fears to mind. One summer, fifteen years before, Emma was a camper at Camp Nightingale and the three girls from her cabin all disappeared. Now as an artist on the rise, she continues to paint the missing girls Vivian, Natalie and Allison. Maybe going back will help Emma get past her demons and find out what truly happened to the girls of Dogwood cabin.

“I want to go inside, look around, see what memories it dredges up. That’s why I’m here, after all. Yet when I twist the doorknob, I realize my hand is shaking. I don’t know what I’m expecting. Ghosts, I suppose.”

Highlights: Sager’s latest novel is one of nostalgia for me. Having attended a summer camp near a large lake and cabins with no AC, this brought back many memories for me. The uncomfortable nights where everything is hot and sticky, canoeing on the lake, campfires and crafts. My sister, my cousins and I attended Quaker Haven Camp in Northern Indiana for two summers. We loved every minute of it. We made friends, crafts and memories. Even at church camp, you hear the stories of some creepy man that stalks the woods or a ghost that kidnaps children. This is what summer was as a kid at camp.
I could picture Camp Nightingale as clear as day. As Emma looks deeper into the events of fifteen years before she slowly reveals more memories that she has kept hidden. The author leads us in many different directions to keep us guessing. I loved the mystery of the lake. With each new tidbit, I was even more intrigued.
The ending was not what I expected. It wrapped up, we got the mystery solved but then…that ending! Holy cow! My chest was tight. My heart was pounding. I had to set the book down and breathe after the last page. The fact that Sager once again got a five star review from me is astounding. I cannot wait for his next book.

Lowlights: The only downfall was that I could not be reading this in a lawn chair on the shores of Dewart Lake in Indiana. That would have made this perfect.

FYI: This is the perfect book to take on a weekend trip to the lake!

Book Review: As Bright As Heaven

As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner

First line: Morning light shimmers on the apricot horizon as I stand at the place where my baby boy rests.

Summary: When the Bright family, Thomas, Pauline and their three daughters, decide that they are going to move to Philadelphia they believe that it will be a new start away from the sorrow of the last few months. Thomas is apprenticing his uncle’s mortuary business. This seems a strange place to bring a family after the loss of their infant son and brother but for Pauline it helps her heal and understand death better. But suddenly the war and the Spanish Flu descend on the family. They have to deal with more than they ever expected.

Highlights: Susan Meissner can write beautiful stories rich with historical detail and human emotion. Her characters are always amazing and deep. It was a very fitting time to read about the flu after the strong strain that hit the U.S. this year. It is also the 100th anniversary of the epidemic. I liked the love stories and the history.

“She says the flu wanted to make barbarians of us, to have us think life is not precious and the dead are not worthy of our kindest care. Our humanity is what made what happened to us so terrible. Without it, nothing matters.”

Of course I had to search Newspapers.com (using the link on our library website) to see how Wichita reported the events of the time.  It seemed that the who country shut down to help protect civilians from the dreaded flu that was wiping out millions of people.


Lowlights: I felt like the narratives of Pauline and Willa were not completely necessary. They did not provide too much to the story. The story could have been shortened by 50 pages or so. I ended up skimming the last 40 pages to see how the characters and story wrapped up.

FYI: I loved her book, The Secrets of a Charmed Life, which is set during the Blitz in London during World War II.

Book Review: The Immortalists

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

First line: Varya is thirteen.

Summary: Four siblings sneak out one night to find a local gypsy woman who is said to be able to tell their futures including their date of death. With these revelations, the siblings begin to live their lives with the knowledge hanging over them. Their stories span over fifty years from San Francisco to Las Vegas. The introduction of the AIDS virus to the war in Iraq. This story shows how knowledge of the future can shape our lives.

Highlights: I really enjoyed Simon’s story. I think he was my favorite character. I was sad when his story was over. However, the plotline for the book was very intriguing. Would I want to know when my death date was? I cannot imagine that I would. It would bring dread as each day passed. On the other hand, would this give me reason to enjoy each day? The author really gives the reader lots to think about while reading. A good author can do this and Chloe Benjamin did a great job.

Lowlights: Simon and Klara were the characters that kept my attention. However, I felt that the story slowed after that. Especially with Varya’s story. Varya had to deal with the loss of each of her siblings and wrapping the story up. I felt like she deserved more. There was a little twist for her but it was not as big as I would have hoped for.

FYI: There is some sexual content and language.