Review: “The Twentieth Wife” by Indu Sundaresan

27298The Twentieth Wife (Taj Mahal Trilogy #1) by Indu Sundaresan

Goodreads | Amazon

Published February 18, 2003, by Washington Square Press

An enchanting historical epic of grand passion and adventure, this debut novel tells the captivating story of one of India’s most controversial empresses — a woman whose brilliance and determination trumped myriad obstacles, and whose love shaped the course of the Mughal Empire. Skillfully blending the textures of historical reality with the rich and sensual imaginings of a timeless fairy tale, The Twentieth Wife sweeps readers up in Mehrunnisa’s embattled love with Prince Salim, and in the bedazzling destiny of a woman — a legend in her own time — who was all but lost to history until now.

Three stars

Random historical fiction alert! This is for my Pop Sugar Reading Challenge and also happens to be a re-read. I haven’t read this since high school, but I remembered really liking it. I took my original review down from four stars, for reasons I’ll explain, but I think I’m still really excited to read the next book in this series, The Feast of Roses.

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ARC Review: “Annabeth Neverending” by Leyla Kader Dahm

27468996Annabeth Neverending by Leyla Kader Dahm

Goodreads | Amazon

At first, teenager Annabeth Prescott thinks she’s found quite a deal when she talks down the price of an ankh pendant she discovers at a flea market. She soon wonders if the bauble is more than she’s bargained for when she faints and glimpses images from a past life in ancient Egypt.

The discovery coincides with another new find: Gabriel, a handsome young man who takes an interest in her. When she meets his twin brother C. J. at a Halloween party, she realizes they look exactly like two boys who figure prominently into her memories.

Does C. J. share the heroic qualities held by his past incarnation Sethe, her bodyguard when she was Princess Ana? Does Gabriel possess the same evil powers he wielded as Kha, the black sorcerer who sought her affection?

Love meets the supernatural in this gripping young adult paranormal romance. Readers with an interest in reincarnation, as well as ancient Egypt, will be drawn to its mystical mixture of history and hesitation as Annabeth sways between the two brothers.

Will her reincarnated soulmate win out? Or will Kha finally find the way to her heart?

Two and a half stars

Thanks to Leyla and NetGalley for this free review copy! Annabeth Neverending is available for purchase now.

Full disclosure: I read this book while recovering from wisdom teeth removal. However, I still don’t think that that impacts just how rough the first part of this book was. The romance–and the way Annabeth talks about the romance–was sometimes uncomfortable. While it began to redeem itself in the middle, the ending was also weirdly rushed. Still, I picked it up because I will read anything vaguely related to Ancient Egypt, and that’s most of what kept me going.

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Worth It Wednesdays: “Code Name Verity” by Elizabeth Wein

Worth It Wednesdays is a weekly post where I feature my favorite YA titles. Find out more about it here!

Code Name VerityTitle: Code Name Verity

Author: Elizabeth Wein

Goodreads Description: I have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.

That’s what you do to enemy agents. It’s what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine – and I will do anything, anything to avoid SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden interrogating me again.

He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I’m going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France – an Allied Invasion of Two.

We are a sensational team.

Why it’s worth it: I should note that I had no reason to like this book. No reason. I don’t like war books, I don’t like books that switch perspectives and are written in this strange, shifting POV. (Read more about that in my review.) But did I like this book?

I BLOODY WELL LOVED IT.

I am not one who cries easily over books. I’m not one to say, “Wow, that book really stuck with me.” But with this one, I did both. I laughed, I cried, I screamed and at the end of it I sat there in a stunned silence and just FELT THINGS. So many things. Wein has crafted such a technically skilled and gorgeous novel that any other book that I’ve read like it has paled in comparison.

Back when I did Top Ten Tuesdays consistently, I listed this book for just about everything: Top Books about Friendship, Top Books I Wish were Taught in Schools – you name it. I also made my book club read this book, to intensely favorable reviews. It’s WORTH READING as few others are. Just have Kleenex handy.

Read it if you’re looking for: strong female friendships, historical fiction: WWII, female spies, female pilots, tears, feelings and emotions, beautiful writing, strong storytelling, action and adventure

ARC Review: “Velvet” by Mary Hooper

Velvet by Mary Hooper

Goodreads | Amazon

Velvet is a laundress in a Victorian steam laundry. With both her mother and father dead, she is an orphan and has to rely upon her own wits to make a living. The laundry’s work is back-breaking and Velvet is desperate to create a better life for herself. Then Velvet is noticed by Madame Savoya, a famed medium, who asks Velvet to come to work for her. Velvet is dazzled at first by the young yet beautifully dressed and bejewelled Madame. But soon Velvet realises that Madame Savoya is not all that she says she is, and Velvet’s very life is in danger …A romantic and thrillingly exciting new novel from an acclaimed and much loved historical writer for teens.

2 1/2 stars

Thanks to Bloomsbury and NetGalley for this eARC! This book will be released November 13th, 2012.

The blurb calls this book “romantic” and “thrilling.” The fact is, this book is neither.

Honestly, I was expecting so much more from this book. The premise was interesting, and Mary Hooper is an established historical fiction writer. Sadly, this book plays on too many historical fiction cliches that bother the heck out of me.

The first problem is the way the book was written. I have no idea why so many historical fiction books think they need to ramble on like historical pieces of the times. Yes, I understand there is certain language you can and cannot use when writing in historical periods, but we’ve cut out the rambling in modern day books for a reason. This is certainly a personal thing as well, since I prefer all unneccesary words to be cut, but still. It bothers me, and it made me iffy about the book from the get go.

The second was the characters. Apart from Madame Savoya, they were all pretty flat and generic. Velvet annoyed me especially, since she had the potential to be such a strong main character, but then fell into the utterly gullible and naive cliche. She toyed with Charlie (a boy from her past who is inexplicably smitten with her even though she brushes him off at every turn), with whom there was NO connection of any real kind, no matter how much they protested there was, and then she was completely taken in by both Madame Savoya and George, her assistant.

The kicker came with the ending–or rather, the lack thereof. I hit the button on my Kindle for the next slide and NOPE. Nothing. I literally couldn’t believe it. Looking back on those two pages or so, I guess they do suggest an ending, but it’s NOT a finished one. Not by a long shot. The climax is a brief and abrupt thing, then all of the sudden you have TWO pages of falling action and that’s just it. Note that when I say two pages, I’m talking for the screens of my small-as-possible Kindle. I’m not sure if this would even make two pages of book. Before this I was thinking of opimistically giving the book 3 stars, but this just killed the book for me.

I will say, however, that the idea continued to impress me all throughout the story. The intrigue that Hooper worked in was basic at times, but the entire setting–mediumship, etc–was really enjoyable and interesting. I learned a lot both about the real ideas of spiritualism and about how all the hoaxers got away with what they did. This is basically the thread that kept me reading.

I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but I LOVE the genre. Maybe my standards for what I do read is a little too high, but this book just fell way short of all of them. I wanted so much more from the book, but I found the standard writing style, flat characters and an ending-that-wasn’t. Most of my frustration comes from the fact that I believed this book could be so much more. Hooper has a fantastic idea, but the execution just didn’t fit.

Waiting on Wednesday #20

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine!

Title: Victoria Rebels

Author: Carolyn Meyer

ETA: January 1, 2013

Synopsis from Goodreads: Queen Victoria’s personal journals inform this captivating first-person account of one of history’s most prominent female leaders.

Queen Victoria most certainly left a legacy—under her rule as the longest reigning female monarch in history, the British Empire was greatly expanded and significant industrial, cultural, political, scientific, and military changes occurred within the United Kingdom. To be a young woman in a time when few other females held positions of power was to lead in a remarkable age—and because Queen Victoria kept personal journals, this historical novel from award-winning author Carolyn Meyer shares authentic emotional insight along with accurate information, weaving a true story of intrigue and romance.

Why I’m Waiting: I don’t know about you guys, but I LOVED Carolyn Meyer when I was a kid. All those Royal Diaries books, her Tudor books – I STILL own them all. And I still mean to own her latest, Cleopatra Confesses. I just have such a soft spot for Meyer – plus I LOVE the story of Queen Victoria. I could have watched The Young Victoria over and over again. This one just came up on Edelweiss, so I have my fingers crossed!

ARC Review: “A Soldier’s Secret” by Marissa Moss

A Soldier’s Secret: The Incredible True Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero by Marissa Moss

Goodreads | Amazon

The story of Sarah Emma Edmonds, who masqueraded as a man named Frank Thompson during the Civil War. Among her many adventures, she was a nurse on the battlefield and a spy for the Union Army, and was captured by (and escaped from) the Confederates. The novel is narrated by Sarah, offering readers an in-depth look not only at the Civil War but also at her journey to self-discovery as she grapples with living a lie and falling in love with one of her fellow soldiers.

3 1/2 stars

This review is of an ARC received from NetGalley and Amulet Books/ABRAMS. You can get a copy of your own on September 1, 2012.

I picked this one up on a whim from NetGalley, because I really do adore historical fiction. Typically I don’t read Civil War stuff, and I thought it would be a good change. It struck me as something akin to those “Dear America” books I read as a child, so why not, right?

However, straight from the get go, I could see problems with this book emerging. The narrator comes off as stiff and emotionless. The First Battle of Bull Run is also steamrolled right through–as is everything else until about the second half of the book. I was further annoyed because The First Battle of Bull Run was so flippantly run through, and then we get a whole long chapter about how Sarah/Frank was falling head over heels with Jerome to the point where she tells him he can’t ask his sweetheart at home to marry him. This was also the chapter we MET Jerome. I wasn’t even 70 pages in.

The highlights of this book, though, were in the history. Moss does a spectacular job describing what it’s like to be a soldier in battle, seeing what you see and doing what you do. Both her descriptions of the physical scene and the descriptions of the effects of that it had on Sarah/Frank were beautifully done.

The great thing about Sarah/Frank is that she really was EVERYWHERE. She signs up right at the beginning of the war, right before the First Battle of Bull Run. She works as a nurse, a postmaster general, a spy and a general’s orderly.  The descriptions of seeing someone leg amputated, receiving gifts from families whom she had informed has lost their son/husband/father, inside the Confederate camps and inside the general’s tent were fantastic. None of these facts had to be invented to really give you a wide view of the war, because Sarah/Frank really did those things in real life.

Thankfully, after the first half of the novel, someone puts the brakes on. Sure, there are a lot of gaps in time, but that’s to be expected because that always happens in historical fiction when they’re trying to give you all the exciting bits. Sarah/Frank’s “romance” bits with Jerome and then James were still a constant thorn in my side, since there always seemed to be a severe disconnect between Sarah thoughts and Frank thoughts. Still, James acts more like a friend and Jerome ends up getting captured and paroled (therefore gone from the picture for a bit) and we get to focus on the battles and the camp  life.

The part in which Sarah/Frank “leaves” the Army also seemed a little washed over. I think it was supposed to have an impact, but it didn’t. All of the sudden, I was just reading and saying, “What? What?” No preamble. Almost no reaction. She just … moves on.

All and all, this book was separated into a bunch of halves. You have the first half of the book and the second half of the book. You have Sarah/Frank’s personal narration and then you have narration about the war. The first half of the book was a crazy ride that really needed to be fleshed out more, while the second half of the book was a pretty awesome description fest. Sarah/Frank as a narrator seemed to be really lacking in connection with me, yet her description of the war was fantastic.

To be honest, I’m rather used to this in historical fiction. It is really hard to write a compelling character while trying to fit in THIS MUCH history. I understand that. So I sort of stopped trying to connect with Sarah/Frank and just let myself go along for the ride. Moss’s descriptions of the war were compelling enough to make me okay with that. Still, if you’re looking for a real feminist story, I’d look somewhere else. I feel like I could give this book to my brother to read and he’d love it, because all he’d care about are the battle scenes.

Waiting on Wednesday #12

Waiting on Wednesday is a feature hosted by Breaking the Spine

Title: Witchstruck (Click for Goodreads)

Author: Victoria Lamb

Expected Publication: July 5, 2012

Summary from Goodreads: Meg Lytton has always known of her dark and powerful gift. Raised a student of the old magick by her Aunt Jane, casting the circle to see visions of the future and concocting spells from herbs and bones has always been as natural to Meg as breathing. But there has never been a more dangerous time to practise the craft, for it is 1554, and the sentence for any woman branded a witch is hanging, or burning at the stake.
Sent to the ruined, isolated palace of Woodstock to serve the disgraced Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and half-sister of Queen Mary, Meg discovers her skills are of interest to the outcast princess, who is desperate to know if she will ever claim the throne. But Meg’s existence becomes more dangerous every day, with the constant threat of exposure by the ruthless witchfinder Marcus Dent, and the arrival of a young Spanish priest, Alejandro de Castillo, to whom Meg is irresistibly drawn – despite their very different attitudes to her secret.

Why I’m Waiting: IT’S PARANORMAL TUDOR FICTION. That should be enough for you. Well, alright, you have to like Tudor fiction, but yeah. I adore this stuff. Like you would not believe. To be honest, the last time I tried this out with The Red Queen’s Daughter by Jaqueline Kolosov, it didn’t work out all that well, but it was still a fantastic concept. Plus, this is backed up to the timeframe that I really enjoy. Plus, c’mon, it’s TUDOR HISTORICAL FICTION. WITH MAGIC. I can’t NOT read it.