Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe

See it is an assumption universally made that any beautiful, brilliant, single woman who is rich as hell will be in want of a husband.

Title: Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe

Author: Melissa De La Cruz

Series: Standalone

Publication: October 17th 2017 by St. Martin’s Press

Pages: 240

Source: Publisher in exchange for a honest review

Summary from Goodreads:

Darcy Fitzwilliam is 29, beautiful, successful, and brilliant. She dates hedge funders and basketball stars and is never without her three cellphones—one for work, one for play, and one to throw at her assistant (just kidding). Darcy’s never fallen in love, never has time for anyone else’s drama, and never goes home for Christmas if she can help it. But when her mother falls ill, she comes home to Pemberley, Ohio, to spend the season with her dad and little brother.

Her parents throw their annual Christmas bash, where she meets one Luke Bennet, the smart, sardonic slacker son of their neighbor. Luke is 32 and has never left home. He’s a carpenter and makes beautiful furniture, and is content with his simple life. He comes from a family of five brothers, each one less ambitious than the other. When Darcy and Luke fall into bed after too many eggnogs, Darcy thinks it’s just another one night stand. But why can’t she stop thinking of Luke? What is it about him? And can she fall in love, or will her pride and his prejudice against big-city girls stand in their way?


Thoughts and Feelings:

I’m going to admit flat out that I am not the biggest fan of the original Pride and Prejudice to begin with. I think it’s silly when it’s praised as a beautiful romance, because it’s not – it’s a satire on Austen’s society cloaked within a romance because that was the only way she could get it published as a woman at the time. Mini rant aside, Pride and Prejudice is amazing as a satire – and I love it as such. Melissa De La Cruz has taken that satire and turned it into a satire of that romantic satire, and it’s great.

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The Chemist

“You’ll make mistakes because it’s impossible to know what is or isn’t a mistake until it’s made.”

Title: The Chemist

Author: Stephenie Meyer

Series: Standalone

Publication: November 8th 2016 by Little, Brown and Company

Pages: 512

Source: Purchased

Summary from Goodreads:

She used to work for the U.S. government, but very few people ever knew that. An expert in her field, she was one of the darkest secrets of an agency so clandestine it doesn’t even have a name. And when they decided she was a liability, they came for her without warning.

Now, she rarely stays in the same place or uses the same name for long. They’ve killed the only other person she trusted, but something she knows still poses a threat. They want her dead, and soon.

When her former handler offers her a way out, she realizes it’s her only chance to erase the giant target on her back. But it means taking one last job for her ex-employers. To her horror, the information she acquires only makes her situation more dangerous.

Resolving to meet the threat head-on, she prepares for the toughest fight of her life but finds herself falling for a man who can only complicate her likelihood of survival. As she sees her choices being rapidly whittled down, she must apply her unique talents in ways she never dreamed of.

In this tautly plotted novel, Stephenie Meyer creates a fierce and fascinating new heroine with a very specialized skill set. And she shows once again why she’s one of the world’s bestselling authors.


My Thoughts:

Stephenie Meyer has done it again, it’s as simple as that. I have been an avid fan of hers since Twilight, which I grew up reading. Then The Host, which blew my mind away. Now, with The Chemist Meyer has created a high stakes world filled with the threads of what makes her writing her writing. There is romance, suspense, humor, sugar and spice and everything nice. The Chemist is an exciting dance between the intoxicating romance of The Host and the thrilling intrigue of Jason Bourne and other spy films alike.

Juliana, Alex, or whatever other name she decides to go by, was a fantastic heroine. She was smart, savvy, and a terrifying badass in the best way possible. In all honesty, I think of her as someone to look up to in a way. She took what she had, what she could do, and she made a name for herself with it. She earned respect for her skills – something often lacking. She is not a good person, not at all. She’s tortured people for her job, she’s killed, she’s done things that would make you squeamish – but she tries. She wants to be one of the good guys, until everything in her world turns upside down and the good isn’t so good anymore. Alex, the name she goes by the majority of the book, is fascinating. Sure there were flaws in the character development and the character in itself, but as a component to the story Alex was everything she needed to be. I found myself absolutely loving her analytical approach to things. It was all practical, all business, totally deadly. It was refreshing. Of course, she had her moments that made her completely believable. There was a certain vulnerability to her, too. Which, when you’ve given a character this badass skill set and background, vulnerability can be hard to believe. Meyer nailed it.

This is one of those books that I can’t talk about because I will spoil it to the moon and back. I never saw any of the twists coming, not really anyway. I found myself on the edge of my seat, waiting, salivating, trying to figure out what was going to happen next. The characters are brilliant. They are so full of life, even Einstein the dog (He was amazing and I want one).  I can’t actually judge the whole spy aspect of the book, because I have absolutely no interest or experience with anything outside of James Bond and the basics everyone watches. I, personally, found the whole thing captivating. It was well thought out, nicely executed, and dipped in the most delicious intricacies.

Overall, The Chemist was well worth the wait. Stephenie Meyer has, and always will be, an instant buy author for me. The Chemist is yet another amazing addition to her fabulous books out in the world. I can’t wait to see what she does next.


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Me Before You

“Some mistakes… Just have greater consequences than others. But you don’t have to let the result of one mistake be the thing that defines you. You, Clark, have the choice not to let that happen.”

Title: Me Before You

Author: Jojo Moyes

Series: Me Before You # 1

Publication: December 31st 2012 by Pamela Dorman Books/Viking

Pages: 409

Source: Purchased

Summary from Goodreads:

Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.


My Thoughts:

Although I adored Me Before You, it also illustrates the dangers of an over-hyped book. All I have heard for the past few months is how Me Before You is a sob story, a heart-breaking and gut-wrenching love story about a quirky young woman and a man who has lost his will to live after a terrible accident. And while the novel delivered on the quirkiness of Lou and the dreadfull Will, I found it to be sorely lacking in the romance and sobbing department. Well, there is one part where I cried – but it’s not what you’re thinking. I cried when Lou went back to the maze for the first time, and that was it.

See, the problem here is a simple one: the book is marketed as a romance but, in reality, that is not what it is at all. The romance is miniscule and barely there. The first inklings of it don’t appear until near the very end. I did not like Me Before You because it was a heart-felt romance. Nor did I like it because it handles the delicate topic of assisted suicide with poise and grace. No, I fell in love with Me Before You for one very singular reason – Louisa Clark.

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Series Review: The Secret Daughter of the Tsar and The Tsarina’s Legacy

“It’s important to believe in something bigger than yourself.”

Title: The Secret Daughter of the Tsar

Author: Jennifer Laam

Series: First of a standalone set

Publication: October 22nd 2013 by St. Martin’s Griffin

Pages: 344

Source: Publisher in exchange for a honest review

Summary from Goodreads:

A compelling alternate history of the Romanov family in which a secret fifth daughter—smuggled out of Russia before the revolution—continues the royal lineage to dramatic consequences

In her riveting debut novel, The Secret Daughter of the Tsar, Jennifer Laam seamlessly braids together the stories of three women: Veronica, Lena, and Charlotte. Veronica is an aspiring historian living in present-day Los Angeles when she meets a mysterious man who may be heir to the Russian throne. As she sets about investigating the legitimacy of his claim through a winding path of romance and deception, the ghosts of her own past begin to haunt her. Lena, a servant in the imperial Russian court of 1902, is approached by the desperate Empress Alexandra. After conceiving four daughters, the Empress is determined to sire a son and believes Lena can help her. Once elevated to the Romanov’s treacherous inner circle, Lena finds herself under the watchful eye of the meddling Dowager Empress Marie. Charlotte, a former ballerina living in World War II occupied Paris, receives a surprise visit from a German officer. Determined to protect her son from the Nazis, Charlotte escapes the city, but not before learning that the officer’s interest in her stems from his longstanding obsession with the fate of the Russian monarchy. Then as Veronica’s passion intensifies, and her search for the true heir to the throne takes a dangerous turn, the reader learns just how these three vastly different women are connected. The Secret Daughter of the Tsar is thrilling from its first intense moments until its final, unexpected conclusion.

My Thoughts:

AHHHHHH!!! Romanov alternate history? Where has this been all my life? Just… just… YAY! The Secret Daughter of the Tsar is exactly what it sounds like: A Romanov heir that no one knew existed – and yes, that means no Anastasia or Alexi (even though Anastasia is my favorite movie ever… shhh…) I was really drawn to this novel for two reasons besides the obvious one I’ve screamed about above. One, it is a smooth flow of three different women – all of whom have a key part to play. It was wonderful. Two, history and mystery! Some of my favorite rhyming words.

Veronica is a down on her luck professor who is attempting to piece together the history of Alexandra, the Empress of Russia. Veronica has always felt like an outsider, like she didn’t belong. She is an orphan, raised by her grandmother. Let’s just say, she learns of the possibility of a secret Romanov heir and jumps on the chance… chaos is eminent. Along with Veronica, we are introduced to Charlotte and Lena – women from Imperial Russia, whom, while in a different time period,  set a path that brings this mystery to its head.

I love history, and, in all honesty, that was my favorite part of this book – and the sequel. It is a wild tapestry of threads spreading through time and across Europe, and there was nothing more satisfying than seeing it all come together in the end. Despite the fact that it was fairly easy to predict, because history – duh – there was still an element of surprise to certain events that made me catch my breath.

This story does require a faint suspension of disbelief, but if you can manage that, I think you’ll find yourself thoroughly enjoying a sprawling historical fiction novel. It is different, it is ambitious, and it is beautifully researched. This book is a matter of taste, if you like long winded books like Outlander, you’ll love this.

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“A cluttered mind seeks solace in ritual and routine.”

Title: The Tsarina’s Legacy

Author: Jennifer Laam

Series: Second in a set of standalones

Publication: April 5th 2016 by St. Martin’s Griffin

Pages: 352

Source: Publisher in Exchange for a honest review

Summary from Goodreads:

Then…Grigory “Grisha” Potemkin has had a successful long association with the powerful Empress Catherine of Russia. But Catherine and Grisha are older now and face new threats, both from powers outside of Russia and from those close to them. Haunted by the horrors of his campaign against the Muslim Turks, Grisha hopes to construct a mosque in the heart of the empire. Unfortunately, Catherine’s much younger new lover, the ambitious Platon Zubov, stands in his way. Grisha determines that to preserve Catherine’s legacy he must save her from Zubov’s dangerous influence and win back her heart.

Now…When she learns she is the lost heiress to the Romanov throne, Veronica Herrera’s life turns upside down. Dmitry Potemkin, one of Grisha’s descendants, invites Veronica to Russia to accept a ceremonial position as Russia’s new tsarina. Seeking purpose, Veronica agrees to act as an advocate to free a Russian artist sentenced to prison for displaying paintings critical of the church and government. Veronica is both celebrated and chastised. As her political role comes under fire, Veronica is forced to decide between the glamorous perks of European royalty and staying true to herself.

In Jennifer Laam’s The Tsarina’s Legacy, unexpected connections between Grisha and Veronica are revealed as they struggle to make peace with the ghosts of their past and help secure a better future for themselves and the country they both love.

My Thoughts:

As I’m sure all of you know by now, I love historical fiction. I love, love, love, love, love it – especially when it is done with accuracy and a certain bit of flair. The Tsarina’s Legacy does just that. This book is a follow up to her debut, The Secret Daughter of the Tsar, which St. Martin’s was also kind enough to send me so that I would not be lost out of my wits. Which, if you haven’t noticed, I’ve reviewed above. Muahahaha!

Much like the first book, I loved the detail and the attention to the smallest historical nonsense. Because of the slight flowery, hum-drummy language, it actually feels like you’re there, you know? There is a certain grace to historical fiction, especially ones such as these where the whole thing is trying to change the course of history. I found myself, once again, thoroughly impressed by the amount of accuracy, research, and the detail of the scenery and depth of the characters. The cool thing about this books is that it isn’t an all or nothing sort of deal. There is a delicate balance of actual history and then a faint smattering of “but what if”s thrown in for good measure. It makes for something exciting, even if you think you know what is going on.

One of the biggest differences in this book, if you can’t tell from the synopsis, is that we have the heir to the Romanov throne. Cue the bagpipes! I’m not saying a word, though the synopsis is a bit spoliery – so, oops. I really did like it though, it provided an extra layer of feels after reading the first book, if you get what I’m saying.

Once again, though, I think the strongest parts of this book were the historical elements – the facts and the way it was all weaved into the setting was impeccable. My love for history sort of saved this book for me. While I liked the characters and the plot line and whatnot, on its own it just wasn’t enough to make my heart race or make me care. But, throw in some high historical stakes with complete accuracy? That is one sail boat I would love to be on.

This book is a book worth reading. The Tsarina’s Legacy is a legacy worth picking up and devouring, even if you are unsure about the outcome. The power shifts, the power struggles in the politics, the romance, all of it was handled with a finely toothed comb, and I loved it.

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The Violinist of Venice: A Story of Vivaldi and Author Interview

Title: The Violinist of Venice: A Story of Vivaldi

Author: Alyssa Palombo

Series: Standalone

Publication: December 15th 2015 by St. Martin’s Griffin

Pages: 448

Source: Publisher in exchange for an honest review

 

Summary from Goodreads:

Like most 18th century Venetians, Adriana d’Amato adores music-except her strict merchant father has forbidden her to cultivate her gift for the violin. But she refuses to let that stop her from living her dreams and begins sneaking out of her family’s palazzo under the cover of night to take violin lessons from virtuoso violinist and composer Antonio Vivaldi. However, what begins as secret lessons swiftly evolves into a passionate, consuming love affair.

Adriana’s father is intent on seeing her married to a wealthy, prominent member of Venice’s patrician class-and a handsome, charming suitor, whom she knows she could love, only complicates matters-but Vivaldi is a priest, making their relationship forbidden in the eyes of the Church and of society. They both know their affair will end upon Adriana’s marriage, but she cannot anticipate the events that will force Vivaldi to choose between her and his music. The repercussions of his choice-and of Adriana’s own choices-will haunt both of their lives in ways they never imagined.

Spanning more than 30 years of Adriana’s life, Alyssa Palombo’s The Violinist of Venice is a story of passion, music, ambition, and finding the strength to both fall in love and to carry on when it ends.

 

My Thoughts:

So this is a little out of my normal sphere of reviews – but I decided to do it anyway. Let me tell you, I am so glad I said yes and took the time to read Violinist of Venice. Going into this, I had no idea who Vivaldi was, what he did, nada. I didn’t really know much about the time period other than what I could assume from the label of ‘eighteenth century’ – but The Violinist of Venice did one thing exceptionally well (actually, it did a lot of things well) and that was educate me on the time period and the circumstances of those involved. The Violinist of Venice is a breathtaking, lyrical, and stunning novel about a young woman named Adriana D’Amato and her love affair with the great composer Antonio Vivaldi – and yet, it is also so much more than a love story.

This book details one woman’s journey from abuse and fear into being a confident woman capable of doing what is necessary for her own happiness.
I did find this book a little difficult to get into at first, but over time, I found myself growing increasingly immersed in the story. The lyrical prose wove a strong connection, just as the description of music and love pulled me deeply within the sweeping narrative. While the beginning of the novel felt a little too rushed for my taste, the rest of the book was perfectly paced and it left me wanting more – it left me on the edge of my seat craving more from these characters and this setting even though I knew that the story was over. If that’s not skill, then I don’t know what is.
Speaking of the characters… oh my goodness, the scope of the character arc tackled throughout the course of this book seemed horribly daunting, and yet Palombo tackled it with poise and grace. Adriana’s transformation from beginning to end was awe-inspiring and the perfect example of how a character should be changed by the events in their life. She was naïve, innocent, and almost the stereotypical, somewhat annoying youngling that didn’t know their left foot from their right. Yet, at the end of the book, Adriana is a confident, strong woman who chooses forgiveness despite all of the wrongs committed. She finds the will to ignore society’s expectations and live the life she wants to life – it was inspiring, especially for a woman of that time.
I think my favorite part, though, aside from the character development, were the descriptions of playing music. Boy did that bring me back. I used to play the cello… and reading the way Palombo tackled the concerts and performances both brought back memories and made my fingers ache for the strings once again. I could hear the notes play through my head and I could imagine it was my own hands creating such beautiful sounds – it was incredible.
The Violinist of Venice is well worth sticking through the convoluted beginning. Not only is it a story of passion, strength, and determination, it is also a story of individuality and the power of your own voice against a larger society. This book is inspiring, it is humbling, and it – by far – is one of the best uses of history and music I have ever seen in literature. Overall, this spellbinding read is the prime example of why literature is beautiful and why I love to read it.

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1. What made you decide to set your novel in 18th century Venice? How did that affect your writing process?
Since the original idea was about a relationship between Antonio Vivaldi and one of his students, it always had to be set in 18th century Venice, as that’s when and where he lived and worked. With that said, when the initial idea came to me, I knew hardly anything about Vivaldi or Venice, and ended up doing the research as I went, because I couldn’t not start writing right away. In the end the book took me a lot longer from draft one to a finished, polished draft because I needed to take time for research in the midst of things. A lot of elements and details in the early drafts needed to change based on things that I discovered while doing the research, but the overall arc of the story remained the same.

2. What advice would you give aspiring authors?
I think it goes without saying that you need to read A LOT. Read books in the genre you want to write in, but read books outside of that genre as well – doing so will ultimately make you more well-rounded as a writer.

Also, know that you’ll need to make a lot of time to write if you’re serious about being an author, but make that time however and whenever works best for you. Don’t feel like you need to write every day if that doesn’t work for you – I found that that doesn’t work for me, as if I’m working on something for a stretch of days in a row, after a while I start to get burned out and need a day or two away so I can come back to it fresh. So go about finding/making your writing time in whatever way makes you the most productive, and make that your routine.

3. How much research did you do prior to writing the book?
As I mentioned above, basically none! I was so excited about the initial idea that I started writing right away, because I couldn’t stop thinking about the story and just had to get it out. I did the research along the way. And once I had a full first draft, I knew specifically where the holes were that I had to fill with historical information, so that helped me to focus my research a bit. I don’t know that I recommend this method for researching and writing a historical novel, but it worked out for me in this instance!

4. Why did you include all of the technicalities about music? What do you think of the general response that it has gotten?
I’m a musician myself, so those musical technicalities are a language that I myself speak, and in writing about music and musicians it never occurred to me to not include those technical details, as that is how these characters would have spoken and thought about the music. That was the one aspect of the novel that I didn’t really have to research!

I realize that the technical musical jargon might be boring or off-putting for some readers who aren’t familiar with the terminology or aren’t as interested in that aspect of the story; I know that’s happened so far and will continue to happen, I’m sure. With that said, though, some people that have read it and are not musicians have really enjoyed the musical details anyway, so I think it’s like anything: it will resonate with some readers and not with others, and that’s fine. That’s the nature of fiction. I wrote a book that I myself would want to read, and as authors I think that’s all we can do.

5. Do you plan to venture out of the Historical Fiction realm for your next novel?
My next novel (for which I’m currently working on revisions with my editor at St. Martin’s) is also historical fiction, set in Renaissance Florence. I’ve also started drafting a new novel that I hope will be my third, which is again historical and is set in post-Revolutionary New York State. So I’ll definitely be sticking with historical fiction for a while and don’t think I would ever abandon it, but with that said I would also like to write novels with a contemporary setting at some point as well. I have a few ideas in that vein, and I have a contemporary adult fiction manuscript that I’ve been playing around with when not working on other things – I call it my “love affair project”  It does have quite a bit in common with Violinist in that it’s also about music and musicians, but this time the musicians are in a heavy metal band! Maybe someday the world will see that manuscript – at the moment I’m content to just see how everything goes!