The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M. J. Rose

RoseTheWitchOfPaintedSorrowsWhere I Got It: Review copy via the blog tour via Netgalley (thanks!).

Publisher: Atria Books (2015)

Length: 384 pages

Author’s Page

Set in 1890s Paris, Sandrine Salome has returned in flight from her husband. With her parents dead, she turns to her grandmother for assistance. However, the beautiful mansion she knew as a teenager is closed up. Her grandmother insists it is only being renovated, but Sandrine’s attraction to the place pulls her there against her grandmother’s wishes. She meets a young man, Mr. Duplessi, and the mystery deepens. Together they end up exploring the house and much more.

This was a gorgeous, well-crafted novel. It was so easy to fall into Sandrine’s world and to walk beside her wondering the same things she was wondering. Her grandmother is the last in a long line of French courtesans, being able to trace her profession and heritage back to the 16th century celebrated La Lune. That alone is a beautiful beginning to a magical mystery. Toss in the the setting of 1890s Paris and the beautiful old mansion full of secrets, and you have a deep, beautiful tale.

I absolutely loved the setting. Several Paris locations were featured in the book and that made the tale one of those that you want to believe was true. Sandrine is a married woman, fled from her American husband, in a time when such things were not done. And if they were done, there were tucked away out of sight of the public. This gave Sandrine an unusual status in society, or rather, the lack of one. Plus, she has this angry husband who is searching for her.

It was a very satisfying book with a lovely mix of mystery, historical fiction, romance, and magic. This book was a joy to read.

What I Liked: The setting of 1890s Paris; Sandrine’s character; a long line of courtesans; the mystery of the mansion and La Lune; the cover art

What I Disliked: Nothing – I really enjoyed this novel!

Follow the blog tour with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours to see what others think, read interviews & guest posts, and catch a few giveaways!

BannerOnceUponATimeIXI’m participating in Stainless Steel Droppings yearly reading event Once Upon A Time IX. Everyone is welcome to join and celebrate their love of fantasy fiction.

Designing Woman by Elaine Raco Chase

ChaseDesigningWomanWhere I Got It: Review copy from the author (thanks!).

Narrator: Sheila Book

Publisher: Self-published (2012)

Length: 4 hours 26 minutes

Author’s Page

Brandy (B. J.) Abbott is an architect. Well, she was until she quit, being unable to take her boss’s schemes and chauvinism any longer. She helps her older half-brother out for a bit at his fancy restaurant (one she designed) while hunting around for a new job. She still has to complete her internship in order to get her architect license. Her brother gives her a lead: Mr. Griffen St. Clair is looking for an architect to design the condos he plans to put in on Daytona Beach. There will be fireworks between Brandy and St. Clair.

It was a quick read and it was cute. While I read a wide range of genres, I have to admit I have yet to fall in love with the contemporary romance genre. With that said, this book held my interest long enough to finish it mostly because of the humor. It’s a sweet romance full of misunderstandings and two people toying with fantasies.

From various things speckled throughout the story, I think this novel is set in the 1980s or so. Smoking is prevalent, including in restaurants. Brandy goes on and on about the male dominated architect world. There’s no cell phones.

For the first half of the book, the reader doesn’t have confirmation that Griffen, a random guy who overheard Brandy arguing with her boss, is the same Mr. St. Clair who praises her (B. J. Abbott) over the phone on her portfolio. But since it is in the book’s blurb, and it is also pretty obvious in the plot, I feel OK mentioning it here.

Now Mr. St. Clair has a really low voice over the phone that B. J. Abbott (the only name St. Clair knows her by) finds very sexy. But when they bump into each other in a restaurant (Brandy is playing hostess and Griffen is getting a drink), they don’t recognize each other at all. Now since their professional relationship has been solely by phone at this point, I was OK with it. But as they keep interacting in person and they don’t put it together, I found that a little bit of a stretch. Since it lead to comedic relief later, I can live with it.

The book has a lot of teasing and flirting. Eventually we get to some steamier scenes, which I liked. The characters eventually have sex at the end of the book, which is a rather brief scene and not particularly descriptive. So if you are looking for a sweet pretty clean romance featuring a career-oriented woman and a man bent on reforming her wanton ways, this is a pretty good read. My personal tastes are for spicy rather than sweet, but don’t let that deter you if this book sounds like fun. It was well written, the pacing was good, with a nice mix of reality, flirtation, comedy, and (eventually) steam.

The Narration: Sheila Book was a good pick for Brandy’s voice. She had a lovely sultry voice for the character, that could also be crisp and professional as the story demanded. Girffen St. Clair is suppose to have a deep, masculine voice and I felt that was a stretch for the narrator.  

What I Liked: Career-oriented woman; made me want to take up smoking in order to feel sexy; lots of steamy flirting; a touch of comedy.

What I Disliked: Not spicy enough for me; only 1 brief sex scene; main male character is suppose to have a deep voice, which the narrator didn’t quite pull off.

What Others Think:

I Am, Indeed

Wi Love Books

Vegetarian Snack Recipes by Heather Hope

HopeVegetarianSnackRecipesWhere I Got It: A review copy provided by the narrator (thanks!)

Narrator: Tiffany Williams

Publisher: Good Living Publishing (2015)

Length: 35 minutes

Series: Book 28 The Essential Kitchen Series

Author’s Page

Note: Even though this is Book 28 in the series, it stands alone quite well.

Yum! Veggie snacks! As the title says, this book is all about vegetarian snacks. Some are naughty, some are lean, some are green, and some are decadent. There’s quite a variety and this book is a treat to anyone who enjoys eating plants, not just vegetarians.

As much cooking as I do every week, I am always up for some new ideas. In this book, there is a lovely zucchini recipe that involves bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. Tasty! In a different chapter, there is a lovely recipe for banana nut bread that uses coconut milk – something I would not have thought of. I do so enjoy my banana nut bread and I think I will have to give this recipe a try. Who doesn’t love stuffed mushrooms?

Many of these recipes are quick easy things that you can whip out in very little time. Also, many of them cook up very quickly, meaning you can have them assembled, cooked, and plated for hungry folks in a short amount of time. Some, like the banana nut bread, do take longer to bake. But I am going to bet they are worth it.

My one little quibble is that the book started with a list of reasons to go vegetarian: health benefits of plants, lose weight, less meat in your diet means less animal cruelty, weight loss, enjoy more super foods and more energy, lose some pounds, etc. You see that weight loss featured heavily and repeatedly in the list of reasons. The repetition was silly at first and then irritating. After all, I eat plants because they taste good. Still, that is a tiny complaint for such an enjoyable book on snacks.

Narration:  Tiffany Williams did a great job. I love listening to her narrate a cookbook. She has a clear voice and good even pacing (which is great if you are trying to follow the recipe while you cook). She also has a hint of enthusiasm here appropriate.

What I Liked:  Lots of simple recipes; many of them are quick to make up; banana nut bread made with coconut milk – decadent!; the cover art.

What I Disliked:  This is a very tiny complaint and wouldn’t keep me from recommending this book – the repeated emphasis on weight loss in the intro was a little beyond silly.

Claimed by the Enemy by Shauna Roberts

RobertsClaimedByTheEnemyWhere I Got It: Review copy from the author (thanks!).

Narrator: Hollie Jackson

Publisher: Nicobar Press (2015)

Length: 8 hours 37 minutes

Author’s Page

Set in ancient Mesopotamia, King Sargon’s army has been conquering and laying claim to cities in his area for decades. For Princess Nindalla of Susa, this is the second time in her young like that Sargon’s Akkadians have conquered her home. Ur-sag-enki was once a farm boy. But the Akkadians changed all that when they destroyed his home and brought ruin to his family. Now, he is a soldier in the Akkadian army. He believes his destiny is tied to Nindalla’s but plots and violence keep driving them apart.

First, this is an awesome book. Second, I know the cover doesn’t convey all the awesomeness contained in this novel, so just push it to the side. There is indeed a romantic love story twined throughout this tale, but there is ever so much more going on. The world is richly conveyed to the reader in a thousand little ways – a few Sumerian words are sprinkled here and there, the way folks dress, swearing by and praying to the deities of the time, liberal consumption of beer, and love pouring forth from the liver (instead of the heart).

The characters have quite a bit of depth, having a history, but also growing throughout this story. The women are portrayed realistically for the time and culture, but they are not boring or simply decorative pieces moved here and there. Princess Nindalla especially is critical for the plot, not because she is the love interest of Ur-sag-enki, but because she has political power and a brain. I really enjoyed this character. She’s a mother of 3, so no shy blushing maiden here. Also, this ties her to the city, and she has to consider her children in each and every decision she makes for their lives may be greatly affected.

Ur-sag-enki wasn’t your average beau. He is a Sumerian of a conquered land living and working as a soldier in the enemy’s army. He has his reasons (ones that aren’t revealed til the end of the book) but his status brings him many enemies both within the Akkadian army and within the newly conquered Susa. Once, as a farm boy, he saw Nindalla from afar and knew then and there that she was his destiny. While that is a nice romantic touch, it fed into his motivations later one. Personally, I think his character would have made many of the same decisions concerning Nindalla even if he hadn’t fallen in love with her on first sight. But if you are a romantic, that will make you sigh and go all gooey hearted.

The plot was excellent. So much palace intrigue! So much army back stabbing! Both Ur-sag-enki and Nindalla have to navigate these treacherous waters, all the while not knowing if they can trust each other.

And there was beer. Now Mesopotamian beer isn’t like Coors or even a good porter. It was a nutritional part of the daily diet. Everyone (men, women, kids, elderly, pregnant ladies) consumed this beverage. It was great to see that the author didn’t shy away from showing this aspect of Mesopotamian life despite social norms of today concerning alcohol.

OK, so the cover. I’m not so hot on it. I assume the young man on the cover is meant to be Ur-sag-enki. However, he doesn’t have any scars, he doesn’t look like he’s been through hell and back, he’s not tanned or dark skinned as I pictured the character. While the cover is easy on the eyes it just doesn’t convey the awesomness contained in this story. And that is my only quibble about the book.

The Narration: Hollie Jackson was really goo with the voices. Her Princess Nindalla was excellent. She also was great at pronouncing the Sumerian words and the ancient Mesopotamian deities. My only criticism is that several times throughout the book there were do overs of a line or two. If it happens just once or twice in a book, I don’t mention it. However, with this book it happened a 4-6 times. Other than that, her performance was great. 

What I Liked: It’s ancient Mesopotamia!; lots of deities; warring cities states; realistic portrayal of women but they are still integral to the plot; Ur-sag-enki’s story arc; characters grow throughout the tale; use of Sumerian words; beer; Princess Nindalla is a mother.

What I Disliked: The cover art doesn’t encompass all the awesomeness contained in this book; the audio had lines repeated (do overs) several times throughout the book.

What Others Think:

Historical Novel Society

Warrior Women Winmill

Over Her Head by Nora Fleischer

FleischerOverHerHeadWhere I Got It: Review copy from the author (thanks!).

Narrator: Anna Starr

Publisher: Jennifer Lee Goloboy (2014)

Length: 2 hours 26 minutes

Author’s Page

Set in early 1900s Maine, Frances Schmidt isn’t your average historian. Nope. She’s a woman. She has worked very hard to get her peers to ignore this fact so that she can finish her degree. She’s so close and the last big hurdle is completing her dissertation, one that she has focused on the myths and legends on merpeople. So she must travel to Maine to try to persuade Garrett Hathaway of letting her study his collection of such legends and tales. Since he is a very private person, she has quite a challenge ahead of him.

The bulk of this story is told through Frances eyes and I really enjoyed her character. She’s chosen a field that is male dominated and has a passion for it. Her peers are a mix of men; some support her efforts, some don’t mind her as long as she doesn’t act like a woman, and then there are some who actively try to block or sabotage her efforts. Also, I liked that she isn’t tall and willowy, but rather short and curvy. Some even call her stocky.

Garrett starts off as a pretty ordinary, if a little reclusive. However, he has a secret, one that has both left him lonely and hating himself but also given him such glee. I also suspect it is the reason he has such an athletic body.

The relationship between these two starts off perfectly professionally. Frances stays at a boarding house while in Maine, making sure to leave Garrett’s house each day before sunset. Propriety must be maintained. She initially bribes him with cookies she baked herself. This later turns into a mutual enjoyment of baking. It was quite sweet to watch the romance blossom between these two, and come to near disastrous ruin a few times due to misunderstandings. These two had to work for their love!

Sprinkled throughout the story are tidbits on merpeople – fanciful bits tossed in by the author but then also poems and works by other authors are cited by the main characters. These were especially nice touches.

My one little quibble occurs near the end of the story, and as such, deals with a spoiler. SPOILER ALERT It wasn’t clear to me how or why Frances became a mermaid when she takes a swim with Garrett. He thinks he transmitted a disease to her, but surely he (or other merpeople) have swum with other people and they didn’t run into merpeople. I could have used a few lines stolen from mythology to make this more plausible. Or perhaps some mystical/magical reason for the transformation. END SPOILER

Other than that one minor criticism, I really enjoyed this novella. The mix of merpeople myths, historical fiction, and romance kept me listening and not wanting to set the book down.

The Narration: Anna Starr was a good pick for Frances. She had a solid, no nonsense voice for her that could also be a bit vulnerable when it came to matters of the heart. Starr had a range of voices that allowed both male and female characters to come through distinctly. 

What I Liked: Merpeople myths and legends; woman in a line of work that is male dominated; romance born out of mutual interests; very satisfying ending.

What I Disliked: The cover art doesn’t encompass all the awesomeness contained in this book; the how and why of the transformation of a character needed a little solidifying.

BannerOnceUponATimeIXTis the season for fantasy reading. I am participating in this year’s Once Upon A Time IX reading event hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. Anyone is welcome, so swing by SSD to join.

What Others Think:

Night Owl Romance

Long and Short Reviews

Amber Stults

To Light the Dragon’s Fire by Margaret Taylor

TaylorToLightTheDragonsFireWhere I Got It: Review copy from the narrator (thanks!).

Narrator: Fred Wolinsky

Publisher: Self-published (2014)

Length: 7 hours 17 minutes

Series: Book 1 Dragons, Griffons, & Centaurs, Oh My!

Author’s Page

Twin sisters Terra and Lanni Heegan go caving in the wilds of Wyoming. For Terra, it is her last hurrah before entering into a loveless marriage. However, things take a turn pretty quickly and soon they are swept up in another world where shifters and chimeras rule. They will each face numerous foes, and perhaps even find a mate.

Draven is a shifter and lord of the land. He is use to being obeyed and his every word taken seriously. That is, until he is presented with two examples of the mythical being known as human. Terra is pretty sure Lanni has set this up. Perhaps it is with actors. Perhaps it is one of those all submersive vids that you can buy. Maybe even a dose of mushrooms. So when she doesn’t take Draven seriously, things go awry. He has to shift into his dragon form to save her from a nasty fall. Unfortunately. Draven’s guards take Terra’s actions as an act of aggression and she and Lanni are tossed in a dungeon, only to be rescued by an unlikely being.

The action picks up really quickly and Terra and Lanni, neither of the shrinking violet variety, do their best to hold their own. Periodically, they are being rescued. Sometimes they do the saving. Draven and his wing man (Arin) make a good duo for the twins to alternately argue with and fight evil side by side. The world building is full of fantastical creatures, such as talking animals, all sorts of chimeras, the shifters, and magical creatures who don’t appear to do any shifting (like the unicorns and rhocs). Arin is a bit of an outcast as he is part of a small group of beings that are never fully human, always retaining some traits of what they shift into. So I pictured him as looking a little like the Beast from Beauty and the Beast, but more disgruntled and trimmer, being the war commander he is.

While Terra is a bit more kick ass than Lanni, they both contribute to the plot and are not simply there as romantic interests. They do tend to do more thinking than the men, but this is required by someone if they are to outwit their foes. And the foes are many, with several of them hidden.

My one quibble is that Lanni becomes a trauma medic without having had any hands on training or experience, but just from having read a medical book or two. At one point, a character is injured, passes out, and Lanni stitches this character up. That’s fine. Lots of people can do stitches in a pinch. Once the character wakes, she goes on to say how they must have had some internal bleeding. Uh… well, if that is the case then it is pure luck they didn’t die and that the bleeding either stopped on it’s own, or slowed enough to leave the injured stable until a real medic could be called.

The romance is a light thread that carries throughout the book. For some of the characters, the connection is made really swift, and others it takes a while. It did not detract from the plot and in certain instances, added to it. There’s also a touch of modern and just over the horizon tech. I liked how this was done lightly, so that we could stay focused on the characters and the plot and not get hung up on whether this was fantasy or science fiction. The ending left us on a very dramatic note (which I liked) and then a bit of a cliffhanger. So be ready to jump right into Book 2 because there is plenty of plot left to unfold and resolve!

The Narration: Fred Wolinsky did a good job with all the character voices. I especially liked his slightly furry voice for Aaron (and since he has whiskers and a kind of leonine face it totally fit). His female voices were believable and he had a range that allowed for distinct characters. There was a true challenge in doing voices for Terra and Lanni (who are twins) and yet making them distinct for the listener and he met that challenge with excellence.

What I Liked: So many magical beasties!; Terra and Lanni kick butt and add to the plot; plenty of action; dramatic ending; ready to jump into Book 2!

What I Disliked: Lanni has excellent trauma medic skills after reading a book or two.

BannerOnceUponATimeIXTis the season for fantasy reading. I am participating in this year’s Once Upon A Time IX reading event hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. Anyone is welcome, so swing by SSD to join.

What Others Think:

Night Owl Romance

The Violet Hour Book Reviews

Around the Blogosphere March 2015

JordanNewSpringFirst, remember that big long read along on The Wheel of Time series that I kept posting about for just over 2 years? Yeah, that one. So us participators got together and made one big wrap up post that SF Signal was kind enough to host. So make sure to swing by over there to catch all our thoughts on the series, but also on the experience of such a long read along.

Next I want to tell you all about Audiobook Blast because I think it is really, really cool. If you enjoy listening to and reviewing audiobooks, this is one more place to get your fix. There is a Facebook Page and a Newsletter. There is a little overlap between the two, so I say check out both and enjoy the variety of books on offer!

BannerOnceUponATimeIXStainless Steel Droppings is hosting the yearly awesome reading event Once Upon A Time IX. This reading event is for fun (no pressure!) and anyone can join. It focuses on the fantasy genre, or anything that can be construed as even a kissing cousin to the fantasy genre. I have participated in the past few years. This year, I plan to pop in and out of the event.

And now I leave you with a rhino who thinks it is a goat.