No Greater Sacrifice

No Greater Sacrifice by John C. Stipa

When Renee d’ Arcadia, archaeologist learns that she is terminally ill, she decides it’s time to take any chances she can get. Grasping at straws, she starts a quest to learn the secrets of the legendary Eleusinian Mysteries, a purification rite that might just provide her with the lifeline she needs. Never did she think that a trip to Greece would place her at the center of a dangerous plot, or bring her closer to sexy David Arturo.

Part adventure, part rollicking romance, and part ancient history lesson, Stipa’s novel is a sort of Da Vinci Code meets Indiana Jones with a dash of mysticism.

I don’t read much in the adventure/thriller genre, but when I do, I like to be absorbed by the story. This was a quick-paced and engaging read. I especially appreciated that Renee was not the sort of damsel-in-distress female sidekick that is so often introduced in such novels, but a strong, determined woman capable to getting herself in and out of scrapes.

I received my review copy of No Greater Sacrifice from John C. Stipa.

You can find a copy of the novel on Amazon and Barnes and Nobles

Changeless

Changeless by Gail Carriger

I generally try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but it can’t be helped when reviewing a series like The Parasol Protectorate… one book leads to another, so details are bound to be revealed that might spoil some readers. So this is a great, big SPOILER WARNING!

For those readers wishing to avoid spoilers, I will say that this has become my new favorite series, which is saying a lot as I tend to avoid series books in general unless they are complete… I am waiting for the next book with intense anticipation and feel thoroughly vexed at not being able to have more, more, now, now! Alexia is a wonderfully snarky character, and I love the supernatural elements in Carriger’s London–undead they may be, but they are entirely fresh and original.

Hark! There be SPOILERS AHEAD! Retreat now if you must!

Otherwise, proceed…

A Question of Faith

Last week, I received The Night’s Dark Shade by Elena Maria Vidal for review.

A historical romance set in 13th century France, The Night’s Dark Shade is an engrossing tale about faith, honor, and courtly love.

In the wake of the loss of her family and her  betrothed, Lady Raphaëlle finds herself thrust into a world that challenges everything she believes in. Drawn into an arranged marriage with her cousin, Raymond, the young Vicomtesse de Miramande is placed under the guardianship of her uncle, the Baron de Marcadeau. Hopeful and eager to make the most of her situation, Raphaëlle is disappointed to find that all is not as she believed. Set upon by a band of brigands while traveling to her uncle’s estate, Raphaëlle meets the dashing Sir Martin de Revel-Saissac, a knight of the Hospitaller order. This fateful meeting awakens Raphaëlle’s sense of passion and longing, an awakening that brings with it a restlessness and sudden awareness of her position as a female.

Struggling between duty and love, Raphaëlle is unwittingly drawn into a world marked by heresy and fanaticism. Under the auspices of friendship, Raphaëlle is beguiled by her aunt, the Lady Esclarmonde, a Perfecta of the Cathar sect who wants to ensure that  her son’s marriage will prove advantageous to the Cathar. Unwilling to compromise her Christian faith and wishing to annul her betrothal, Raphaëlle seeks the aid of her cousin Bertrand and Sir Martin, and soon finds herself placed in the custody of Sir Jacques d’ Orly, King Louis IX’s loyal liege.

Braving danger and persecution, Raphaëlle emerges as a strong and thoughtful character, a woman certain of her virtue and moral stance.

This novel drew me in from the very first page and put me in mind of the Lais of Marie de France. Raphaëlle is a charming character whose innocence and strong opinions make her a worthy lady and a wonderful protagonist. The history of the Cathari is fascinating and lends a darkness to the tale that adds a thrilling sense of mystery to Raphaëlle’s journey.

I highly recommend this novel for readers interested in fiction about medieval women’s lives and courtly love.

Wuthering Heights

I’m a little early for the Brontë challenge, but I just couldn’t stop myself from reading Wuthering Heights now that I’m officially on holiday from school. This is one of those books that most everyone I know read in high school, but for one reason or other, we never read it for any of my classes. I do remember one of my classmates describing it as “incestuous cousins who fall in love and one of them dies,” but it is obviously so much more than that. I would describe it as a set of dastardly, petty, and vengeful characters who slowly torture and destroy one another, their toxic legacy nearly destroying their heirs in the process.

Though I have often heard the relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy described as one of the great romances, I found it destructive and terribly dark. Like Mr. Lockwood, I was fascinated by Nelly Dean’s account of the lives of the inmates of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. In many ways Wuthering Heights reminds me of Frankenstein, there is a terrible sense that the story is going to take a very bad turn. I found it very Gothic, though I had a difficult time deciding who resembled Dr. Frankenstein more: Cathy, whose passion for Heathcliff and belief in their oneness leads to her denying him any choice in the matter of their future, or Heathcliff, who plots to turn those around him as low as himself. They both show a disregard for what is good and right and create monsters of their will.

I found that the story of Linton, young Cathy, and Earnshaw was a cautionary tale on how not to raise children. Coddled, indulged, and wild, these receive their share of suffering as a result of the legacy left by Heathcliff, Cathy,Earnshaw, and Linton, but they are responsible for the cruelty they heap upon one another. Nevertheless, I liked young Cathy and pitied young Earnshaw for his ignorance; though I cannot say I felt much sympathy for the sniveling, selfish Linton.

All in all, I’m pleased that I started the Challenge with this selection and glad that I finally got around to reading it–that copy has been in my TBR pile for a number of years.

Winds of change

I read Jack Hussey’s The Ghosts of Walden: Three Concord Stories for the Historical Novel Society Review; as my review will be part of the next newsletter, I decided to post a reaction here instead.

Set in 19th century Concord, Hussey re-imagines life around Walden as poets, philosophers, abolitionists, and suffragettes fight battles both personal and social. Hussey adapts the rich literary history of Concord to portray the troubles and triumphs of characters such as Henry David Thoreau, R.W. Emerson, Ellery Channing, and even Louisa May Alcott.

Ghosts is divided into three stories: “The Wilderness of the World,” “In My Hour of Darkness,” and “A Waltz at Walden Pond”.

I found myself referring to Wikipedia as I read, interested in learning more about the individuals portrayed and the parts they played in the history of American literature and philosophy. The narrative is told from multiple perspectives, individual tales coming together and resulting in an overarching narrative that connects the three main stories. I found some of the mini-stories in “The Wilderness of the World” a bit awkward at times and was somewhat confused by Ellery Channing’s conversations with himself (semi-schizophrenic dialogues in which he referred to himself as Mr. E and Mr. C), but I really enjoyed “A Waltz at Walden Pond”. While “Wilderness” is set during the time of Thoreau, Emerson, and Channing, “Waltz” takes place after the passing of the Greats and presents the legacy of the idyllic, Transcendental Concord. I was very much intrigued by Sarah Sanborn’s struggle to leave Concord and make a new life for herself as a single woman, and was pleased with the direction that her story took.

While I don’t think readers need to be thoroughly familiar with the history, some knowledge of the lives of the historical characters portrayed will make the story easier to follow.

Enchanting Pleasures

I have realized that if I am going to be a proper librarian, I need to be familiar with all manner of genres. With that in mind, I delved into the Romance section of my local Borders, had a mild panic attack, and fled. I’m exaggerating, but I honestly had no idea what to do with the hundreds of books (many featuring oiled, manly chests on their covers). As one of the most read popular genres, the selection is wide and I am a Romance virgin. Other than a couple of Nora Roberts and Catherine Cooksons, I haven’t really explored this genre so it took a lot of browsing before I finally made my selection…

Eventually I picked Eloisa James’s Enchanting Pleasures, a Regency romance with a very sedate pink cover… not a muscled chest in sight. The tagline on the cover reads “A Novel of Scandals, Seductions, and Forbidden Delights” and it really was a delightful read.

The plot is silly, pure fluff, but Gabby Jerningham, the heroine of the story, is a fun and spirited character whose antics move the plot along at a fast pace.

But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Shipped off to England to meet her betrothed, Gabby leaves India in the company of young Miss Phoebe and Prince Kasi Rao. A talented storyteller, Gabby keeps the children busy aboard the vessel with tales of India and her dreams for a happy marriage. But all is not well in England. Gabby has been promised to Peter Dewland, who most assuredly does not look forward to marriage with a backward girl from India. While Peter agonizes over his filial responsibilities, his brother Quill struggles to overcome the shattering migraines that have plagued him for years. Neither brother is prepared for the changes that Gabby’s arrival will signal. When Gabby’s charms prove to be too much for Peter’s fashionable sensibilities, it’s up to Quill to handle the matter, and he’s more than happy to oblige.

I have to admit that my expectations were not very high for the novel, Quill’s condition is exacerbated by er… sexual congress… so I was expecting a very fanciful plot with lots of gratuitous sex, but this was not the case. The plot was engaging and interesting, some of the elements were fanciful, but it did not detract from the story. At times, Gabby almost reminds me of Catherine Morland, her imagination gets her into all sorts of sticky situations.

An Echo in the Bone

Diana Gabaldon’s An Echo in the Bone has all the makings of what will surely become an epic–battles, revolution, life-changing experiences, death, treason, spies, sex, and more. This mighty tome continues the story of Jamie and Claire Fraser, soul mates who have a way of always getting into trouble.

The American Revolution is underway and Jamie and Claire are inadvertently drawn into the maelstrom. Continuing the story where A Breath of Snow and Ashes left off, fans of the series will be pleased to find that Jamie and Claire are not ready to settle down just yet. The same can be said for Bree and Roger, whose trip through the stones left more than memories of the past.

The story is rich and complex, introducing new characters and reintroducing others from earlier in the series. This being book 7, it’s quite a cast. As always, Gabaldon’s narrative is incredibly detailed and thoroughly researched, from descriptions of the harsh realities of life on the battlefront to eerily clinical specifics on the practice of field surgery.

Outlander is one of my favorite series, so I was clamoring to read this book. Though I loved it in the end, it took me a few chapters to really get into it. Claire and Jamie are wonderful as ever, but there are a lot of characters in this book and the narrative shifts to present different points of view (more so than it does in most of the other books in the series). There are at least 5 major narratives in the novel–Jamie and Claire’s, Bree and Roger’s, Ian’s, William’s, and Lord John’s–and numerous subplots. I wasn’t very engaged in William’s story at first, I kept wanting to skip past it and move on, but it grew on me. My only peeve was that the ending felt like a tease. Snow and Ashes offered some sense of closure–it offered the possibility of more, but it had a definite end. Echo just leaves you wanting more. I finished it and thought, “This can’t be it? Author’s Notes? What do you mean Author’s Notes? What happened to Jem?!?!” Obviously, I can’t wait for the next book!

with cherries on top

Cherry Cheesecake MurderI was in the mood for a light, fun read this week, so I checked out Joanne Fluke’s Cherry Cheesecake Murder–a read as sweet as the desert after which it was named.

The little town of Lake Eden gets caught up in a blur of excitement when a famous Hollywood director decides to film on Main Street. Local baker and amateur sleuth, Hannah Swensen finds herself drawn into the mix when an old college buddy turns out to be the film’s writer. But it seems that the real drama concerns the film’s director, womanizer and perfectionist, Dean Lawrence. When a murder occurs on the set, it’s up to Hannah to put her best snooping skills to use and solve the mystery.

Other than a few Miss Marples, I haven’t read many mysteries. My selection was based entirely on the cheesecake illustration on the cover. I had no idea what I was getting into but the idea of a mystery with recipes was enough for me.

I did not realize at the time that this is the 7th volume in Fluke’s Hannah Swenson series, but I had no trouble becoming familiar with the characters and the main plot did not require continuity within the series.

Overall, the novel was an enjoyable, quick read and just what I expected–a light and fluffy read that made me want to bake everytime I came across a recipe.

Much of the novel explored the relationships between Hannah, her family, her beaus, and the people of Lake Eden, so much of the novel didn’t seem to be a mystery. The whodunit plot was a bit predictable, but no less enjoyable because of it.

what the body remembers

Just finished reading Stephenie Meyer’s The Host. I’m still not sure how I feel about this novel. It was unexpected to say the least; a lot more complex than the blurb on the cover implies.

As with the Twilight series, there is just something about Meyer’s writing that hooks you in, so that you can’t stop reading until you know where the story is going.

Wanderer, a member of an invading alien species, has been implanted into the host body of Melanie Stryder. A simple procedure that has allowed the silver, peace-loving creatures to take over Earth, Wanderer, like her kin, should be able to assimilate into Melanie’s body without a problem, except she finds that Melanie’s spirit/energy/life-force refuses to leave. Troubled by her inability to adapt to her new host body, Wanderer finds herself yearning for the people that Melanie lost–her partner and her younger brother–so accepting Melanie’s presence, she goes off in search of them… easier said than done.

The blurb on the cover describes it as a love story and the Amazon review holds that it “may be the first love triangle involving only two bodies”. However, while love may be one of the novel’s themes, it seems to me that the Meyer is more concerned with an exploration of what it means to be human.

Though the story dragged in places, it was the relationship between Melanie and Wanderer (Wanda) that kept me interested. The Jared/Melanie story did not do it for me at all. Jared has to be one of the most unlikable characters I have encountered in Meyer’s works.