Little Sacrifices by Jamie Scott: Review

Little Sacrifices

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13556624-little-sacrifices

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5782220.Jamie_Scott

Synopsis from Goodreads: How much would you risk to stand up for your beliefs?
When Duncan and Sarah Powell move with their daughter, May, to Savannah Georgia in 1947, they hope against hope that they’ll be welcomed. But they’re Yankees and worse, they’re civil rights advocates almost a decade too early.
At first May can pretend they’re the same as everyone else. It means keeping quiet when she knows she should speak up, but it’s worth the sacrifice to win friends. Unfortunately her parents are soon putting their beliefs into action. And when they wake to find that they’re the only family on the block with a Ku Klux Klan cross blazing on their front lawn, the time comes for them to finally decide between what’s easy and what’s right.

Source: Author for a fair and honest review

My Rating: 5/5 stars

My Review: One short week ago, I ranted to my husband about not having come across a 4½ or 5-star read in far too long. Thank you, universe, for hearing my rant and offering up Jamie Scott’s absolutely excellent historical fiction novel, Little Sacrifices!

Set in 1940s Savannah, Georgia, Little Sacrifices follows the life of May and her parents as they relocate, under duress, from the North to the South. May’s parents are outspoken integrationists who have not only instilled their beliefs in their young daughter, but also often embarrass her in the course of their endeavors. In the beginning, for May, the South is hot, humid, and completely inexplicable. Thankfully, she meets Jim, the social outcast who lives next door and is more than willing to help May adjust and navigate the treacherous waters of segregated Savannah.

I can complain about nothing in this novel…AT ALL!! So, rather than gushing all over the place for several pages about the awesomeness of this read, I’ll hit you with the highlights.

*Scott has crafted a plot that is dramatic, gripping, heavy, historical, and incredibly interesting. Fair warning, reader: this plot is not easy as it is a fictionalized account, based on detailed research, of life in the segregated South, a full decade and half before the Civil Rights movement began. Throughout the narrative, an intense tension is always simmering just below the surface and, from time to time, it breaks through the surface.

*Because of the detailed research, the setting, atmosphere, and language feels very real and absolutely believable. The reader easily becomes immersed in May’s world. One of the hands-down highlights of this book is that you do get so completely immersed in this world, then are brought right back to reality by some seriously funny one-liner that you did not see coming. Scott clearly has a knack for breaking up the ever-present tension.

*As if the main plot weren’t enough, a secondary plot is instigated by May’s penchant for snooping. Periodically, full chapters are dedicated to the unfolding and unraveling of this secondary plot line. To be completely honest, I was absolutely taken in by this part of the novel and was thrilled to see how Scott was able to eventually bring the past and the present perfectly together.

*If I had to pick a favorite part of this novel (and I would be hard-pressed to do so), the characters would have to be it. Like the setting, plot, and everything else, the characters are fully developed entities with whom the reader can connect from the earliest moments of the book. I found myself empathizing with certain characters, laughing with them on occasion, and feeling their heartache a time or two. Being able to create such fully resolved and realistic characters in a single novel is truly a great skill for an author to possess.

*Finally, the epilogue is excellent. Who writes about the epilogue, right? Well, I do when it is as good as the rest of the book. Scott used her space in the epilogue as it should be used; nearly every character in the novel is covered in the epilogue. The reader will walk away with a great sense of closure.

The Bottom Line: Despite the tragic nature of the time and place, this historical fiction read is outstanding. The plot is intriguing, the characters are fantastic, and the writing style is so smooth and easy that it makes getting through this novel a breeze. I can unreservedly recommend this read to adults, but would caution recommending it to a young adult reader who is on the younger end of the spectrum.

P.S. for you chick lit fans out there, Jamie Scott just happens to the pen name of chick lit author Michele Gorman 🙂

Incantation by Alice Hoffman: Review

Incantation

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22893.Incantation

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3502.Alice_Hoffman

Synopsis from Goodreads: Estrella is a Marrano: During the time of the Spanish Inquisition, she is one of a community of Spanish Jews living double lives as Catholics. And she is living in a house of secrets, raised by a family who practices underground the ancient and mysterious way of wisdom known as kabbalah. When Estrella discovers her family’s true identity–and her family’s secrets are made public–she confronts a world she’s never imagined, where new love burns and where friendship ends in flame and ash, where trust is all but vanquished and betrayal has tragic and bitter consequences.
Infused with the rich context of history and faith, in her most profoundly moving work to date, Alice Hoffman’s first historical novel is a transcendent journey of discovery and loss, rebirth and remembrance.

Source: Purchase

My Rating: 5/5 stars

My Review: I picked up Alice Hoffman’s Incantation on a whim while at my local used bookstore. This book was meant to be my no pressure, no review, just for the hell of it read and then I devoured it in two very, very late night sittings and realized I have to review this book.  Incantation is the tragic and heartbreaking story of Estrella de Madrigal and her struggle to remember who and what she is in a time when who and what she is, was simply not allowed.

Though Estrella is a fictional character her story is one that is based on the facts of the Spanish Inquisition.  During this dark period of human history, it was essentially illegal for Jews to be Jews in Spain.  Under the direction of Tomas de Torquemada, Jews were forced to convert to the Christian faith, flee their homes, or risk being tortured and killed if caught practicing their faith.  While Estrella is certainly disturbed by what she is seeing and hearing in her village she knows, without doubt, that this horror cannot touch her family.  It simply cannot, she and her family are Christians.  As dark rumors, gossip, and speculation begin to turn neighbor against neighbor, suddenly Estrella is forced to consider that everything she thought she knew about herself and her family is wrong.

Is it possible that her family is actually Jewish?  As Estrella begins to look back over the years of her short life the pieces of a newly-discovered and very dangerous puzzle begin to fall into place.  There is the fact that her family eats no pork, they light the candles every Friday evening, they cross themselves differently than do their neighbors and there are times when family members (including Estralla) are called by different, secret names.  For Estrella these discoveries are as fascinating as they are dangerous.  As the accusations and arrests increase dramatically, Estrella understands that she has precious little time to understand the history of her family and her people and decide if she will stand with them and their shared history.  Estrella must decide if she is willing to give up everything she has ever known and loved for the sake of her family and her faith.

Had I started this book any earlier in the night I would have completed it in a single sitting.  The plot is as powerful as it is heartbreaking and every character brings something to the table.  There are no weaknesses in the cast of characters; you love some and hate others but you undoubtedly see how each plays his/her role perfectly.  Each scene and every chapter are crafted rather than simply written and all pull the reader in instantaneously.  It is ridiculously easy to become emotionally invested in these characters and their story.  This story made me angry, anxious, sad (yes, I cried), and it gave me cold chills up my spine.  With that being said, it is important to note there are bright moments of beauty in this book as well.  At the end of the day the message is clear: though times are often dangerous and frightening hope and love are equally powerful forces.

The Bottom Line: Make no mistake, because of the subject matter alone this is not an easy book to read but it is beyond being well worth the time and the emotional investment.  The plot and the characters are flawless.  As for the writing style?  When I consider Hoffman’s writing style I see in my head a mature and beautiful woman, finely dressed, and carrying herself with a grace that is a part of her rather than being something she has learned.  In short, Hoffman’s writing style is elegant and suits the subject matter of Incantation perfectly.  A phenomenal read!

Improper Relations by Juliana Ross: Review

Improper Relations

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13553262-improper-relations

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5780364.Juliana_Ross

Synopsis from Goodreads: Dorset, 1858 When Hannah’s caught watching her late husband’s cousin debauch the maid in the library, she’s mortified–but also intrigued. An unpaid companion to his aunt, she’s used to being ignored.
The black sheep of the family, Leo has nothing but his good looks and noble birth to recommend him. Hannah ought to be appalled at what she’s witnessed, but there’s something about Leo that draws her to him.
When Leo claims he can prove that women can feel desire as passionately as men, Hannah is incredulous. Her own experiences have been uninspiring. Yet she can’t bring herself to refuse his audacious proposal when he offers to tutor her in the art of lovemaking. As the tantalizing, wicked lessons continue, she begins to fear she’s losing not just her inhibitions, but her heart as well. The poorest of relations, she has nothing to offer Leo but herself. Will it be enough when their erotic education ends? (Novella: 22,000 words)

Source: Netgalley

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review:

**Please Note: this is an adult only read**

Juliana Ross’s Improper Relations is a quick naughty romp through late 19th century England.  Following her husband’s death Hannah has nowhere to go, no money and no one but her late husband’s family to take her.  Hannah has resigned herself to the knowledge that she will spend the rest of her days as the unpaid companion to her late husband’s mother.  While Hannah is not happy in her position she does have a roof over head, a place to sleep, and the large family library to occupy her limited free time.

No one ever uses the library, at least not that Leo has noticed.  What better place is there to play naughty with the maid than in the one place that no one ever uses?  Except for Hannah, the one person no one ever notices.  As the afternoon passes by Hannah finds herself trapped on the upper floor of the library as Leo and the maid both quite joyfully pleasure one another.  Hannah knows she should announce herself or try and escape unnoticed but she just can’t seem to take her eyes off the couple.  Everything Leo and the maid do to one another appears to be mutually pleasant and even exciting; it also looks like something Hannah has never ever experienced, even with her late husband.  Hannah thinks she has gone completely unnoticed during the tryst but much to her great shock and embarrassment she soon discovers Leo was aware of her presence all along.

What happens next is something Hannah never imagined possible; she overcomes her shyness, embarrassment, and awkwardness and embarks on a variety of fun and sexually satisfying lessons with the more-than-willing Leo.  Leo takes Hannah under his wing and opens her world up to a whole new realm of possibility, at least where sex is concerned.  Hannah is an unpaid “burden” while Leo is a member of the wealthy family Hannah once belonged to and now works for.  The possibility of the two of them together outside of the bedroom is absolutely ridiculous and all kinds of forbidden.  Hannah knows this and thus determines that she will learn all she can from Leo, enjoy her forbidden time with him, and hope and pray she doesn’t become emotionally attached to him.

The Bottom Line: I enjoyed this quick (30-45 minute) adults only read very much.  While I initially found Hannah to be a bit cold, her curiosity and enthusiasm for her “lessons” with Leo quickly overshadow her coldness.  Leo initially comes across as man-whore but his attitude toward Hannah and his attentiveness regarding her needs and desires make him a much more likeable character.  While the naughty bits of this novella are frequent they aren’t lewd or disturbing just descriptive and instructional J  Yes, there are a lot of naughty bits in this novella but there is also a decent plot and a bit of drama to be had.  In the end, Improper Relations was a good and satisfying read.

Hunting by S.M. Hineline: Review

Hunting

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13506060-hunting

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5762598.S_M_Hineline

Synopsis from Goodreads: In the war between humans and vampires… a child will turn the tide.
Thousands of years ago a goddess cursed a family, every 500 years a child of their bloodline would be born a vampire. This child would mean the survival or destruction of the vampire race. And each would do anything to find the child first.
Jade knew nothing of the curse, but when a vampire princess calls, you answer. Now she must do her best to help find the child and save it from the humans who would see it dead. And if that weren’t enough, the princess’ cousin, in an effort to show her unworthy to lead their people, is doing everything in his power to stop them. Even if that means killing them all.

Source: Author for a fair and honest review

My Rating: 3½/5 stars

My Review: I like it when an author spins a tried and true plot line in a new way.  In the world of paranormal writing vampires are either completely hidden from society at large or completely out in the open and living amongst the humans.  In the case of S.M. Hineline’s Hunting, not only are the vampires out of the dark, so to speak, but they are their own sovereign nation within the borders of the United States.  Told you, new twist.

I also fancy a book that doesn’t completely conform to the first-in-a series formula: introduce all the major characters; introduce the long reaching plot line; introduce and tie up the short-term plot line and; provide just enough background information to keep the reader wanting more.  Hunting is a vampire of a different blood type.  Hineline does introduce the major characters; Jade, a human envoy to the Vampire Kingdom and Aldora, heiress to the throne of the Vampire Kingdom; she introduces and ties up the short term plot line; she introduces the long-term plot line but; instead of a tiny bit of background information, Hineline submerges the reader in background and history.  While I am generally a very big fan of this type of reading, I did find it a bit tedious in this particular novel with some of the longer passages slowing down the pace of the novel.

As for the plot line itself, I am alright with it as it has yet another new twist.  Turns out, the Vampire Kingdom conceived by Hineline has a fatal flaw; they begin to lose their power every five hundred years and will lose it completely if the single vampire child born to human parents once every fifth century isn’t found.  That should be easy, right?  There can’t be that many pregnant human women at one time, right?  Oh so wrong L  This part of the novel picks up considerably as Aldora, Jade, and two companions, Ignatious, a formidable magician and Mordecai, a much-feared hybrid with amazing skills.  The hunt for the human child is dramatic, action-packed, and full of surprises.

The Bottom Line: I liked the characters, I liked the action of the contemporary Hunt scene, and I enjoyed most of the background information.  The first part of the novel does drag just a bit but the pace picks up toward the middle and through the end of the book.  I do believe future installments of this series will be better as the characters become more fully evolved and the long-term plot line further develops.  For now, out of five stars, I am at a solid three and half on this novel with the side note that I am sure that rating will go up with installment number two.

The Hermetica of Elysium by Annmarie Banks: Review

Hermetica of Elysium

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12868569-the-hermetica-of-elysium

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4517708.Annmarie_Banks

Synopsis from Goodreads: 1494 Barcelona. Thousands of books and manuscripts are lost to the flames as the Black Friars attempt to purge Europe of the ancient secrets of the gods and the bold new ideas that are ushering in the Renaissance. Words are Nadira’s life. She is pursued as passionately for her rare skill as a reader of Ancient Greek, Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew, which makes her valuable to men who pursue the Hermetica to exploit its magic. Kidnapped by Baron Montrose, she is forced to read from the Hermetica. Within its pages are the words that incite the Dominicans to religious fervor, give the Templars their power, and reveal the lost mysteries of Elysium. As Nadira begins her transformation from servant to sorceress, will she escape the fires of the Inquisition, the clutches of the Borgia pope, Alexander VI and the French king, Charles VIII? And will Montrose’s growing fear of her powers cause her to lose her chance for love?

Source: Publisher for a fair and honest review

My Rating: 5/5 stars

My Review: Annmarie Banks’ The Hermetica of Elysium is the first book of the Elysium Texts series.  This Medieval Fantasy novel is, without doubt, an outstanding start to this series and one I feel confident recommending to all readers and fans of the Medieval, historical fiction, and fantasy genres.  The book opens in late 15th century Barcelona, a time and a place that was dangerous for women, Jews, and any person or text deemed heretical and/or dangerous by the Catholic Church.

Nadira is a remarkably special young woman who lives in Barcelona and works as a reader, accountant, and general secretary for a shop keeper named Sofir.  Although a servant, Nadira is treated well by her master and often finds her work interesting and rewarding.  One of Nadira’s particular talents is her ability to read, speak, and write several languages.  While Nadira revels in this talent and adores reading anything and everything she can get her hands on she is also keenly aware that this gift is one that can get her into a whole host of trouble.  As the book opens, that trouble is on Nadira and Sofir’s doorstep.

Nadira’s life takes a phenomenal turn when she is taken from Sofir’s home and into the service of Robert Longmoor, Baron Montrose of England.  Nadira has been taken from the only home she has known for most of her life because of her ability to read a variety of languages.  Nadira quickly discovers that Longmoor and his men are in pursuit of a book known as the Hermetica of Elysium. The Hermetica is a book that promises knowledge of all things and in 15th century Europe, a book such as this was absolutely heretical.  Longmoor and his men seek only to recover the book, have Nadira read and translate it for them, and then protect it so that it never falls into the wrong hands.  As you might well expect, Longmoor is not the only man in pursuit of such knowledge.

Nadira is treated well and with respect by both Longmoor and his companions and she does her best to help the men in any way possible. Throughout the course of the book Nadira is separated from and reunited with Longmoor on several occasions.  However, she always seems to find herself in the service of an individual who is willing to protect her in return for her services as a reader and translator.  Although Nadira dearly desires being reunited with Longmoor she also has to accept that due to her gender, she has very little say in her situation.  Each of Nadira’s various masters bring her into contact with bits and pieces of the Hermetica and with each new experience, Nadira begins to understand both the beauty and the danger of this elusive book.  Nadira also learns that her gifts go beyond anything she could have previously imagined or predicted; in fact, it becomes clear that Nadira is likely the only person in the world who can read the Hermetica without suffering any ill effects.  This makes both Nadira and the Hermetica precious commodities.

The Bottom Line: I loved this book!  Banks offers the reader such a variety of experiences including: the rich descriptions of 15th century Europe and its religious climate; wonderfully well-rounded and relatable characters; and a plot that it intriguing, entertaining, and full of tension.  Once the plot really begins to unfold about half-way through the book it steamrolls right on through to the very end.  There is action, there is love, there is adventure, and there is a series of characters that you don’t want to be done with.  Generally when a book ends on a cliffhanger like the Hermetica of Elysium does, I am pissed off.  In this instance I am totally excited and very much looking forward to the second book in The Elysium Texts Series, The Necromancer’s Grimoire.

Half Black Soul by H.D. Gordon: Review

Half Black Soul

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13162861-half-black-soul

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5189455.H_D_Gordon

Synopsis from Goodreads: In the past few weeks Alexa Montgomery has had her entire world flipped upside down. She’s gone from living a semi-normal teenage life to a life full of vampires and werewolves who all expect her to deliver them from the control of an evil dictator.
Alexa is the last of her kind; a Sun Warrior, and now she has left the safety of Two Rivers to search for her mother, but she’s left her sister behind to do so, and Nelly is the one person that she was told that she must always protect. Kayden, a vampire who is Alexa’s other half, has followed her on her journey. But, secrets are about to come out, relationships will break and danger lies just up ahead. Will Alexa be able to get through all of this and make it out alive? And, will she be able to protect Nelly from danger when she is so far away?

Source: Purchase

My Rating: 5/5 stars

My Review: Alexa Montgomery is the Sun Warrior – a girl meant to lead a revolution against the paranormal world’s tyrannical king; girlfriend to Jackson the werewolf; sister to Nelly, a hybrid Lamia/Searcher; and potential mate to the to-die-for warrior Kayden.  That’s a lot of stuff to be for one seventeen-year-old girl but as always, Alexa handles herself with extreme violence and very little grace J  You go girl!

Half Black Soul is the second novel in the Alexa Montgomery Saga and it is well worth the wait.  Each chapter (with the exception of one toward the end) of this high octane novel is told from the perspective of either Alexa or Nelly.  For what is likely the first time in their lives the girls are separated from one another and forced to deal with the consequences of that separation.  For Alexa this means a butt load of ass-kicking, acknowledging her feelings for Kayden (who might have followed her when she snuck away), and trying to deal with the fact that her monster, which now has conversations with her, is a gleeful and stone-cold killer.  For Nelly the separation means learning to stand on her own two feet, further develop her formidable skills, fight her own battles (take that Victoria!), and formulate a plan that will help her sister meet her destiny head-on.

There is no break in the action in this book despite all the background and new information Gordon has offered.  Alexa and Kayden prove to be an amazingly efficient and vicious team during their journey and Nelly comes into her own.  In fact, Nelly is by far the most evolved character in this novel and is certainly someone to look out for in future installments of the series.  Nelly, in her own way, is just as fierce and bad-ass as her sister!

The Bottom Line: the short-term plot line for this novel was not only aggressive and fast-paced but informative and really, really good.  The long-term plot line is also advanced, rather dramatically, and leaves the reader all but begging for more.  The major characters not only evolve but do so in fantastically spectacular fashion while most of the minor characters make a splash of their own.  In short, this sophomore effort by H.D. Gordon is excellent and I can’t wait for the next round of awesome.

The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall by Mary Downing Hahn: Review

Ghost of Crutchfield Hall

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7737902-the-ghost-of-crutchfield-hall

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/10006.Mary_Downing_Hahn

Synopsis from Goodreads: When twelve-year-old Florence boards the crowded horse-drawn coach in London, she looks forward to a new life with her great uncle and aunt at Crutchfield Hall, an old manor house in the English countryside. Anything will be better, she thinks, than the grim London orphanage where she has lived since her parents’ death.
But Florence doesn’t expect the ghost of her cousin Sophia, who haunts the cavernous rooms and dimly lit hallways of Crutchfield and concocts a plan to use Florence to help her achieve her murderous goals. Will Florence be able to convince the others in the household of the imminent danger and stop Sophia before it’s too late?

Source: Purchase

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall is a short novel by award-winning author Mary Downing Hahn.  This classic ghost story is a quick and easy read that is appropriate for even the youngest of young adult readers or wimpy adults such as me.  Hahn creates a creep-tastic plot that unfolds within in the walls of Crutchfield Hall just outside of London.

When twelve-year-old Florence is taken in by her uncle she thinks life is finally taken a turn for the better.  The only problem with Florence’s sunny new future is the plans being hatched by the ghost of her cousin Sophia.  With the help of her cousin James and a delightful servant Nellie, Florence discovers just what the three of them must do in order to put Sophia to rest, for good this time!  The plot and the characters are both richly written and fully developed; there is not a slow moment in the entire book.  All in all this book is an excellent and entertaining read that has an appropriate level of creepiness for young readers.