Monday, October 24, 2016

Wishlist Reads: October 2016

Like many readers, my TBR grows faster than it shrinks. I find a subject that interests me and titles start piling up one right after the other. With so many bookmarked, I thought it'd be fun to sort through and feature five titles a month here at Flashlight Commentary. 

The most surprising thing about this month's theme is how long it took me to get around to using it. My coffee addiction is the stuff of legend and I'm not just saying that. Seriously, ask my friends, they wont lie and they love giving me a hard time over my drink of choice. 

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The Edgar Award–winning novel A Conspiracy of Paper was one of the most acclaimed debuts of 2000. In his richly suspenseful second novel, author David Liss once again travels back in time to a crucial moment in cultural and financial history. His destination: Amsterdam, 1659—a mysterious world of trade populated by schemers and rogues, where deception rules the day.

On the world’s first commodities exchange, fortunes are won and lost in an instant. Miguel Lienzo, a sharp-witted trader in the city’s close-knit community of Portuguese Jews, knows this only too well. Once among the city’s most envied merchants, Miguel has lost everything in a sudden shift in the sugar markets. Now, impoverished and humiliated, living on the charity of his petty younger brother, Miguel must find a way to restore his wealth and reputation.

Miguel enters into a partnership with a seduc-tive Dutchwoman who offers him one last chance at success—a daring plot to corner the market of an astonishing new commodity called “coffee.” To succeed, Miguel must risk everything he values and test the limits of his commercial guile, facing not only the chaos of the markets and the greed of his competitors, but also a powerful enemy who will stop at nothing to see him ruined. Miguel will learn that among Amsterdam’s ruthless businessmen, betrayal lurks everywhere, and even friends hide secret agendas.

With humor, imagination, and mystery, David Liss depicts a world of subterfuge, danger, and repressed longing, where religious and cultural traditions clash with the demands of a new and exciting way of doing business. Readers of historical suspense and lovers of coffee (even decaf) will be up all night with this beguiling novel.

It is 1895. Robert Wallis, would-be poet, bohemian and impoverished dandy, accepts a commission from coffee merchant Samuel Pinker to categorise the different tastes of coffee - and encounters Pinker's free-thinking daughters, Philomenia, Ada and Emily. As romance blossoms with Emily, Robert realises that the Muse and marriage may not be incompatible after all. Sent to Abyssinia to make his fortune in the coffee trade, he becomes obsessed with a negro slave girl, Fikre. He decides to use the money he has saved to buy her from her owner - a decision that will change not only his own life, but the lives of the three Pinker sisters...

Spanning the years between 1932 and 1977, this beautifully told epic is set in the heart of El Salvador, where coffee plantations are the center of life for rich and poor alike. Following three generations of the Prieto Clan and the wealthy family they work for, this is the story of mothers and daughters who live, love, and die for their passions.

Alicia, a young American expat, marries Colombian Jorge Carvallo and they settle on his family's remote coffee finca in the Andes. Educated as a biologist, she revels in the surrounding cloud-forest. However, following an idyllic year, calamities strike one after another and their marriage begins to unravel. Jorge leaves as a volcanic eruption nearly destroys the coffee crop and the threat of guerrillas and drug-lords looms; but headstrong Alicia refuses to budge and stays to salvage the coffee. A woman without a country in a man's world, the initially naive Alicia survives by her wit and determination. A passionate affair ensues with Peter, a rugged geologist. She also forms a tight friendship with Carmen, the barefoot woman who has worked for the Carvallo family most of her life. Despite being separated by class and nationality, these two single mothers forge a strong bond. The intricate web of events climaxes when Alicia finds herself in a life-threatening situation, ultimately forcing her to come to terms with herself and the unconventional life she has adopted.

Out of Africa is Isak Dinesen's memoir of her years in Africa, from 1914 to 1931, on a four-thousand-acre coffee plantation in the hills near Nairobi. She had come to Kenya from Denmark with her husband, and when they separated she stayed on to manage the farm by herself, visited frequently by her lover, the big-game hunter Denys Finch-Hatton, for whom she would make up stories "like Scheherazade." In Africa, "I learned how to tell tales," she recalled many years later. "The natives have an ear still. I told stories constantly to them, all kinds." Her account of her African adventures, written after she had lost her beloved farm and returned to Denmark, is that of a master storyteller, a woman whom John Updike called "one of the most picturesque and flamboyant literary personalities of the century." 

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Stephanie at Layered Pages
Colleen at A Literary Vacation (coming soon)
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired (coming soon)
Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Heather at The Maiden's Court (coming soon)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Cover Cliché: Portrait d'une négresse

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see jacket art that gives me a disconcerting sense of deja vu. I know I've not read the book, but I am equally certain I've seen its image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Image recycling is fairly common as cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. The details vary cover to cover, but each boasts a certain similarity and I find comparing the finished designs quite interesting. 

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Ponce, Puerto Rico, at the turn of the century: Ana Belén Opaku, an Afro-Cuban born into slavery, is a proud midwife with a tempestuous past. After testifying at an infanticide trial, Ana is forced to reveal a dark secret from her past, but continues to hide an even more sinister one. Pitted against the parish priest, Padre Vicénte, and young Doctór Héctor Rivera, Ana must battle to preserve her twenty-five year career as the only midwife in La Playa.

Serafina is a respectable young widow with two small children, who marries an older, wealthy merchant from a distinguished family. A crime against Serafina during her last pregnancy forever bonds her to Ana in an ill-conceived plan to avoid a scandal and preserve Serafina’s honor.

Set against the combustive backdrop of a chauvinistic society, where women are treated as possessions, A Decent Woman is the provocative story of these two women as they battle for their dignity and for love against the pain of betrayal and social change.

This story of love and revolution takes place during the Argentine struggle for independence (1810-1820) and focuses on the character of the national hero, Manuel Belgrano. However, Belgrano's story is told through the voices of the real heroes of the novel-María Kumbá a mulatto healer-priestess, fighter, and nurse to the common soldiers; and Gregorio Rivas, mestizo son of a well-to-do Spanish businessman.

Sky of Drums is filled with political and personal intrigue. At the core of the novel is the issue of racial discrimination. Belgrano is blinded to the love Maríahas for him and the good counsel she has to offer because of his contempt for blacks. His open contempt for Rivas as a mestizo leads to his death. Rivas becomes María's lover but is always haunted by María's evident adoration of Belgrano. The manner in which the love-hate triangle plays out is filled with surprises and cuts to the heart of Argentina's troubled identity.

Of black Martinican provenance, Patrick Chamoiseau gives us Texaco (winner of the Prix Goncourt, France's most prestigious literary prize), an international literary achievement, tracing one hundred and fifty years of post-slavery Caribbean history: a novel that is as much about self-affirmation engendered by memory as it is about a quest for the adequacy of its own form.

In a narrative composed of short sequences, each recounting episodes or developments of moment, and interspersed with extracts from fictive notebooks and from statements by an urban planner, Marie-Sophie Laborieux, the saucy, aging daughter of a slave affranchised by his master, tells the story of the tormented foundation of her people's identity. The shantytown established by Marie-Sophie is menaced from without by hostile landowners and from within by the volatility of its own provisional state. Hers is a brilliant polyphonic rendering of individual stories informed by rhythmic orality and subversive humor that shape a collective experience.

A joyous affirmation of literature that brings to mind Boccaccio, La Fontaine, Lewis Carroll, Montaigne, Rabelais, and Joyce, Texaco is a work of rare power and ambition, a masterpiece.

The Book of Night Women is a sweeping, startling novel, a true tour de force of both voice and storytelling. It is the story of Lilith, born into slavery on a Jamaican sugar plantation at the end of the eighteenth century. Even at her birth, the slave women around her recognize a dark power that they and she will come to both revere and fear.

The Night Women, as they call themselves, have long been plotting a slave revolt, and as Lilith comes of age and reveals the extent of her power, they see her as the key to their plans. But when she begins to understand her own feelings and desires and identity, Lilith starts to push at the edges of what is imaginable for the life of a slave woman in Jamaica, and risks becoming the conspiracy's weak link.

Lilith's story overflows with high drama and heartbreak, and life on the plantation is rife with dangerous secrets, unspoken jealousies, inhuman violence, and very human emotion between slave and master, between slave and overseer, and among the slaves themselves. Lilith finds herself at the heart of it all. And all of it told in one of the boldest literary voices to grace the page recently--and the secret of that voice is one of the book's most intriguing mysteries.

Abiola is a clever young warrior in West Africa and part of a highly developed, ritualized society that is rich not only in trade but in metaphorical and spiritual understanding. But neither his prowess nor the sophistication of his culture can save him from betrayal, capture, and being sold into slavery. Abiola's story ends when he is given a new name—Cornelius—and becomes the property of a Frenchman who sells harpsichords in the American South. Eventually Cornelius runs away and joins the British who are fighting the Americans. If the British win, he reasons, he may gain his freedom. But the British lose the American War of Independence, and Cornelius and his family are eventually repatriated back to West Africa and the newly founded country of Sierra Leone. But all is not as Cornelius had dreamed: Sierra Leone is run like a colony, and though trading in slaves has been officially banned, in practice it continues, having become ever more lucrative for being driven underground. Cornelius’s daughter, Epiphany, however, has discovered that she has the same gift of metaphorical and spiritual understanding as her ancestors, and she seeks to use it for the aid of her family.

"Stunning...Maryse Conde's imaginative subversion of historical records forms a critque of contemporary American society and its ingrained racism and sexism." THE BOSTON SUNDAY GLOBE

At the age of seven, Tituba watched as her mother was hanged for daring to wound a plantation owner who tried to rape her. She was raised from then on by Mama Yaya, a gifted woman who shared with her the secrets of healing and magic. But it was Tituba's love of the slave John Indian that led her from safety into slavery, and the bitter, vengeful religion practiced by the good citizens of Salem, Massachusetts. Though protected by the spirits, Tituba could not escape the lies and accusations of that hysterical time.

As history and fantasy merge, Maryse Conde, acclaimed author of TREE OF LIFE and SEGU, creates the richly imagined life of a fascinating woman.

English title: I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem

Elisabeth Samson, a free black Surinamese woman who lived in 18th-century Dutch Guyana, is the central character in this compelling novel. Challenging the prevailing racial stereotypes by demonstrating her intelligence and business acumen, she is determined to marry a white man in defiance of all established norms and conventions. Set amidst the rich backdrop of the Golden Age of Suriname, this biographical account depicts the complex social and racial stratifications which were features of slave colonies of the era as well as this remarkable woman who overcame institutionalized discrimination and prejudice to become one of the wealthiest individuals in the slave colony of Dutch Guyana.

Based on a true story, Ourika relates the experiences of a Senegalese girl who is rescued from slavery and raised by an aristocratic French family during the French Revolution. Brought up in a household of learning and privilege, she is unaware of her difference until she overhears a conversation that makes her suddenly conscious of her race - and of the prejudice it arouses. From this point on, Ourika lives her life not as a French woman but as a black woman "cut off from the entire human race." As the Reign of Terror threatens her and her adoptive family, Ourika struggles with her unusual position as an educated African woman in eighteenth-century Europe. A best-seller in the 1820s, Ourika captured the attention of Duras's peers, including Stendhal, and became the subject of four contemporary plays. The work represents a number of firsts: the first novel set in Europe to have a black heroine, the first French literary work narrated by a black female protagonist, and, as John Fowles points out in the foreword to his translation, "the first serious attempt by a white novelist to enter a black mind." An inspiration for Fowles's acclaimed novel The French Lieutenant's Woman, Ourika will astonish and haunt modern readers.

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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Song of War by Kate Quinn, Christian Cameron, Libbie Hawker, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Russell Whitfield, Stephanie Thornton, & S.J.A. Turney

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Read: August 31, 2016

Troy: city of gold, gatekeeper of the east, haven of the god-born and the lucky, a city destined to last a thousand years. But the Fates have other plans—the Fates, and a woman named Helen. In the shadow of Troy's gates, all must be reborn in the greatest war of the ancient world: slaves and queens, heroes and cowards, seers and kings... and these are their stories. A young princess and an embittered prince join forces to prevent a fatal elopement. A tormented seeress challenges the gods themselves to save her city from the impending disaster. A tragedy-haunted king battles private demons and envious rivals as the siege grinds on. A captured slave girl seizes the reins of her future as two mighty heroes meet in an epic duel. A grizzled archer and a desperate Amazon risk their lives to avenge their dead. A trickster conceives the greatest trick of all. A goddess' son battles to save the spirit of Troy even as the walls are breached in fire and blood. Seven authors bring to life the epic tale of the Trojan War: its heroes, its villains, its survivors, its dead. Who will lie forgotten in the embers, and who will rise to shape the bloody dawn of a new age? 

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Trends in historic fiction are changing. I’ve read the genre for the better part of the last two decades and I’ve never seen a format grow in popularity the way anthologies and continuities have. I’ve no problem admitting that I've avoided both for as I typically find the stories unbalanced and the authors poorly matched, but books like A Day of Fire and A Year of Ravens have gone a long way in changing that opinion.

A Song of War is the third release from The H Team and I personally think it the strongest of thus far. Unlike the earlier books, the magnitude and scope of the Trojan war allowed each author to explore a pivotal event in the conflict and afforded each contributor a moment to shine in a way the earlier books hadn’t. The stories are intrinsically connected and follow the well-known course of events, but I liked how each author had their own platform and how of their individual voices were showcased within the larger chorus.

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The Apple by Kate Quinn
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Kate Quinn penned the first Song from the dual perspective of Hellenus and Andromache. I was vaguely familiar with the former, but had never given him much thought and was surprised by how quickly the quiet Trojan Prince grew on me. I found Quinn's characterization intensely relatable and I enjoyed how his personally played off her interpretations of his more recognizable siblings. Unlike her counterpart, Andromache was familiar to me and I greatly appreciated and enjoyed Quinn’s interpretation of the character. I found Andromache’s genuine emotion and personal challenges endearing and enjoyed seeing her come into her own and revel in a few moments of pure joy as the cloud of war gathered on her horizon.

Hector, Paris, Helen, and Odysseus made notable appearances in the first Song. Though they aren’t explored in significant detail, most of the narrators are introduced in Quinn’s submission and I appreciated how the effort facilitated transitions between submissions as I made my way through the book. I was also amused by how many secondary myths and stories were referenced in The Apple and appreciated how the piece set the stage for the conflict ahead.

* Best Moment in A Song of War – Kudos for a long overdue double bitch-slap. *

I wondered if Aphrodite was laughing at me, up on Olympus. How the goddess of love had played with my future: if I ever held the girl I loved, it would be over the corpse of the brother I revered.

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The Prophecy by Stephanie Thornton
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Quinn is one of my favorite writers and I pitied the author tasked with following in her wake. Or I did, until I discovered who it was. I’m a big fan of Stephanie Thornton and actually laughed out loud as I knew her story, regardless of subject, would hold its own. Quinn’s signature humor is unrivaled in my mind, but Thornton’s command of language has left me speechless on more than one occasion and while I knew the tone would take a dramatic turn in Song two, I was confident that Cassandra’s story would be as layered and memorable as Hellenus and Andromache's had been.

I found the second Song deliciously dark and strangely addictive. Thornton’s exploration of Cassandra’s family situation and the demons that haunted her tickled my imagination and I was fascinated by how author chose to illustrate Cassandra’s madness. Cassandra is obviously damaged, but there is genuine fire in her and a selflessness that no other character in the narrative rivals. Atmospherically I felt this one of the strongest submissions and I greatly admired the intensity and intelligence of the action and dialogue Thornton presented.

* Best Surprise in A Song of War –Apollo’s Temple… Grotesque, but surprising and satisfying. *

They called me mad because I uttered truths no one wished to hear.

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The Sacrifice by Russell Whitfield
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Russell Whitfield put himself on my radar when I read A Year of Ravens. I’ve actually reread that submission a couple of times since reading the book and could kick myself for not having acquired his solo publications, but long story short, I was excited to see he’d contributed to A Song of War.

That said, I was wholly unprepared for his take on Agamemnon. I’m not a fan of the character and my mind’s eye always flashes on Brian Cox when I read the name, but Whitfield turned that mental image upside down and challenged me to see his protagonist as a man burdened by guilt, alerted by grief, and embittered by years of war and responsibility. Agamemnon’s annoyance with Achilles is palpable, but it was the relationships he shares with Iphigenia and Chryseis that cut to my core. Whitfield’s Agamemnon is a man who gave everything to the campaign and lost his soul for his trouble. It’s a harsh story and brutal on a number of levels, but the presentation and the ideas it explores are a true testament to Whitfield’s creativity, vision, and talent.

* Best Character in A Song of War – Writing a hero is easy, reinventing a villain is an achievement. *

Lust - for women, for gold, for power. Men were base creatures. Ironic then, that he had to place their welfare and their objective first and foremost.

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The Duel by Christian Cameron
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Christian Cameron was the first of two contributors with which I was not previously familiar. I’d no idea what to expect from his writing, but I knew where we were in the story and I swore I’d rake him cross the coals if he didn’t do right by Hector. The outcome was a given, but the Trojan Prince is my favorite character and I didn’t need to see him slaughtered without putting up a decent fight. I’m a passionate reader and I make no apologies for it. I was going to love this submission or hate it, there was no middle ground.

I expected an intensely masculine story and was caught off guard when I realized Cameron had centered his story on Briseis, but I was floored by what happened next. Cameron’s submission was the first to show a different side of a previously established character and I was captivated by how Briseis’ opinions of Achilles contrasted Agamemnon’s. As a character Brises defied traditional gender roles and I loved how Cameron's choice of narrator allowed his to authentically illustrate the expanse of the battlefield. I formed a deep appreciation for the action itself, but Cameron capitalized on the enormity of the conflict and gave his readers a truly remarkable point of view.

* Best Battle Scene in A Song of War – Hand to hand combat between two ‘worthy’ opponents. *

War is brutal, but it is far more brutal to women than men, who, mostly, can only die when their bodies are torn asunder, rather than live on with their lives torn out like the entrails of an antelope taken by dogs.

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The Bow by Libbie Hawker
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I’d stumbled over Libbie Hawker’s work prior to reading A Song of War, but The Bow marks my first time reading it. As with Cameron's work I didn't know what to expect from the writing, but I knew where the story was going. I'd opinion about the material, but I was fairly open minded in regard to how it should play out which is why I was surprised to discover The Bow was the most personally challenging of the entire novel.

I didn’t care much for Penthesilea and struggled to engage in her arc. I liked the general idea, but as with the The Queen by Stephanie Dray, I felt this character could carry her own story and didn’t feel right about it being condensed to so short a piece. I thought Priam had some very interesting moments at this point in the story, but I was confused by Paris, Helen, Andromache, and Cassandra as Hawker’s interpretations weren’t entirely consistent with those of the authors who’d introduced them earlier in the novel.

That said, Philoctetes proved a breath of fresh air. Straight off the boat, he didn’t exude the war weary aura that had settled on much of the cast and I think his perspective allowed Hawker to explore the field in a way none of her peers could. I felt she took full advantage of the opportunity this afforded and applauded her for illustrating homosexual affection without effeminizing her protagonist in the process.

* Best Iconic Moment in A Song of War – Hawker popped the weasel! *

Life without honor is not worth living.

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The Horse by Vicky Alvear Shecter
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Vicky Alvear Shecter is not a new author for me, but as far as I’m concerned, The Horse left the rest of her work in the dust and I’m not just saying that because she had the guts to tackle my second favorite character. Odysseus is easily the most iconic voice in A Song of War and I honestly thought Shecter crazy for attempting to write him, but her interpretation blew me away and left me in absolute awe of her imagination and skill.

Troy is primed and ready to fall in these scenes. Alliances are shifting, some characters are breaking and others are showing their true colors. There’s a lot going on in this piece, but Shecter made it work while drawing the novel towards its climax in a way that complimented both the vision of her peers and the original source material.

* Best Submission in A Song of War – Finest adaptation of original story. *

How do I explain that I would not dare shed blood— especially the blood of the goddess’s servants— lest she curse me and my family for generations for the sacrilege? His approach would only beget an endless cycle of bloodshed. And yet because I shed no blood, I should be ashamed?

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The Fall by S.J.A. Turney
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S.J.A. Turney was in the hot seat from the beginning. His submission anchors the narrative which is challenging enough, but Shecter’s story upped the ante threefold. Aeneas is an interesting character, but Shecter’s Odysseus was untouchable and I wondered if Turney could possibly close the novel in a way that didn’t fizzle in the wake of its predecessor.

It was a legitimate question in the moment, but the concern proved entirely unfounded. Turney’s adaptation of the material didn’t inspire my imagination the same way Shecter’s had, but the emotional aspects of The Fall were nothing short of brilliant. Turney’s prose is my favorite of all the author featured in A Song of War and beautifully emphasizes the intense and powerful themes of his submission. His descriptions are stark and often crushing, but there is a candle flame of hope in his story and I loved how his conclusion tied A Song of War to the entirety of The H Team’s existing catalogue.

* Best Tone in A Song of War – Amazing illustration of human emotion. *

I straightened with a frown. ‘While there is still a Troy to save, I have to save it,’ I said with an air of finality. I do not know even now whether it was pride that drove me to turn my back on the notion of flight, or whether it was the call to duty that every warrior feels, for I suffer from both in equal measure. All I do know, as I look back on that decision, is that it was made in defiance of the urging of both men and gods, against the weaving of the Fates, and it brought us only more pain.

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Friday, October 14, 2016

The Kaiser's Last Kiss by Alan Judd

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Edelweiss
Read: October 11, 2016

A fictionalised account of the Kaiser Wilhelm's last years in Nazi-occupied Holland.It is 1940 and the exiled Kaiser is living in Holland, at his palace Huis Doorn.The old German king spends his days chopping logs and musing on what might have been.When the Nazis invade Holland, the Kaiser's Dutch staff are replaced by SS guards, led by young, eager Untersturmfuhrer Krebbs, and an unlikely relationship develops between the king and his keeper. While they agree on the rightfulness of German expansion and on holding the country's Jewish population accountable for all ills, they disagree on the solutions. Krebbs's growing attraction and love affair with Akki, a Jewish maid in the house, further undermines his belief in Nazism. But as the tides of war roll around them, all three find themselves increasingly compromised and gravely at risk.This subtle, tender novel borrows heavily from real history and events, but remains a work of superlative, literary fiction.Through Judd's depiction of the Lear-like Kaiser and the softening of brutal Krebbs, the novel draws unique parallels between Germany at the turn of the 20th century and Hitler's Germany.

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Kaiser Wilhelm
Alan Judd’s The Kaiser’s Last Kiss demanded my attention the moment I stumbled over it on Edelweiss. I waited impatiently to see if I’d be granted a copy for review and jumped for joy when one came through. Few stories get me this excited, but I’ve spent a lot of time reading about the Kaiser, WWI and WWII and couldn’t help feeling giddy about a story that features elements of all three. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm distracted me from my usual routine and I failed to do my homework before diving into the narrative.

Had I bothered to look, I might have approached The Kaiser’s Last Kiss differently, but I didn’t and missed noting that I’ve read Judd before and wasn’t impressed with the result. I’d eyed Dancing with Eva for several months before acquiring a copy in 2013 and was bitterly disappointed when the execution failed to live up to my expectations. The pacing was sluggish and the characters stilted. The telling was anticlimactic and I remember being impressed with myself for not throwing the damned book at the wall.

Why is any of this important? Well let’s just say history repeats itself and while I found The Kaiser’s Last Kiss marginally better than its predecessor, I honestly feel that it suffers many of the same technical and structural difficulties. I found Krebbs and Akki woefully underdeveloped and the fact that I felt something off in each negatively underscored Judd’s primary plot twist. Much like I did with his earlier work, I finished this novel feeling distinctly unsatisfied with the central story and wishing I hadn’t invested my time in the narrative.

The story lacked punch and I didn’t warm to Krebbs or Akki, but I did note some fun historic detail in the politics of the narrative and I actually liked Judd’s interpretation of Kaiser Wilhelm. Judd’s characterization of the exiled monarch mirrors my own impressions and I found his scenes amusing despite my lack of interest in the rest of the story.

Would I recommend The Kaiser’s Last Kiss? Probably not. I don’t mean to turn anyone away from the novel, I don’t think it capitalized on the full potential of the subject matter and I wasn’t impressed with the fictional elements of the piece.

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“People fear that because I have lived in Holland for over twenty years I do not know what the German people are thinking. But I do. I know very well what the German people think because people tell me and because I understand them here... It is not war itself they seek, but they hunger for justice and war is the only way. So for this new war, they have, since 1918, been ready to march at once, to strangle the French. Well, now they are doing that but they cannot finish the job properly until they have driven Juda out of England, as they are driving them from the continent. The Jews and Anglo-American commercialism and materialism make it impossible for European peoples to live in decent peace and spiritual harmony. This war will be a divine judgment on Juda-England, you will see. That is why the soldiers of the Wehrmachtare here in Holland, Major van Houten. It is not against you or your country, and when the business is complete they will go. I promise you that."
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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Cover Crush: Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing the shelves at Goodreads and Amazon. My love of cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those prints that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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I'm a sucker for cover are with bold colors, but the combination of shades and imagery on Rachel Caine's Paper and Fire is downright gorgeous. I'll grant it clashes a little, but the effective is striking and I love the layering of the design elements and the sparks that appear to be eating away at the jacket. 

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!


Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Holly at 2 Kids are Tired
Stephanie at Layered Pages
Heather at The Maiden's Court

For The Most Beautiful by Emily Hauser

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: October 3, 2016

Three thousand years ago a war took place that gave birth to legends - to Achilles, the greatest of the Greeks, and Hector, prince of Troy. It was a war that made - and destroyed - both men, a war that shook the very foundations of the world. But what if there was more to this epic conflict? What if there was another, hidden tale of the Trojan War that had yet to be told? Now is that time - time for the women of Troy to tell their story. Thrillingly imagined and startlingly original, For the Most Beautiful reveals the true story of true for the first time. The story of Krisayis, daughter of the Trojans' High Priest, and of Briseis, princess of Pedasus, who fight to determine the fate of a city and its people in this ancient time of mischievous gods and mythic heroes. In a novel full of passion and revenge, loyalty and betrayal, bravery and sacrifice, Emily Hauser breathes exhilarating new life into one of the greatest legends of all - in a story that has waited millennia to be told.

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Logios Hermes
I have mixed feelings about Emily Hauser’s For the Most Beautiful. Parts of it worked beautifully, but others fell flat in my eyes. I enjoyed the time I spent with it and can honestly say that I’d recommend it alongside A Song of War and Helen of Sparta, but there were weak points in the narrative and I wasn’t thoroughly sold on the final product.

Hauser approaches the classic story from the joint perspectives of Krisayis and Briseis. I thought the idea original, but I wasn’t drawn to either heroine and that reality went a long way in defining my experience with the narrative. I found their backstory stories interesting enough, but I never connected with either character and wasn’t particularly invested in discovering how their experiences played out.

That said, I was highly amused by the antics of the Gods. Most of the mythic fiction I’ve encountered has downplayed the celestial cast, written them out of the action entirely, or regulated them to vague supporting roles. Hauser bucks the trend and I caught myself laughing out loud over the drama that played out in the heavens above the battlefield.

Long story short, I found the book entertaining in its way and would recommend it to enthusiasts, but I'm not sure it'd be the first adaptation I’d throw out to other readers when asked for recommended myth based fiction.

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He cocks his head, his excitement rising, like the foaming crest of a wave before the shore. He can almost hear the sharpening of the weapons – the delightful scraping of bronze on stone that means the mortals are at it again. Definitely time for a war, he thinks. It’s getting far too pastoral around here. A little blood to stain the plain, a few heroes fighting and dying, a couple of cities burnt, the columns of soot and ash curling up to heaven, like the smoke of a sacrifice...
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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Undesirables by Chad Thumann

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: October 6, 2016

In the winter of 1941–1942, Leningrad is under siege, and Karen Hamilton, a seventeen-year-old American musician, finds herself trapped and struggling to survive. Throughout the city, people are dying of starvation and frostbite, and Karen knows that if she doesn’t escape immediately, she will share their fate. If she has any hope of leaving Russia and reuniting with her fiancé, Bobby, in New York, she must do the impossible: cross enemy lines and then stow away. On her harrowing journey, Karen encounters Petr, a young conscripted Russian soldier. She isn’t sure she can trust him—he is equally wary of her. But as the two join forces in order to stay alive, an unexpected romance takes root. Now, as Karen gets closer to the reality of escape, she has a choice to make: Will she return to a safe life in America with Bobby, or remain in war-torn Russia with Petr?

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Chad Thumann’s The Undersireables stood out. WWII fiction is easy enough to find, but stories set in Russia aren’t as common as those set in England, Germany, or France and I captivated and intrigued by the premise presented in the jacket description. I’d never heard of the author, but I took a chance in requesting it and was happy to receive an ARC from Lake Union Publishing.

Historically speaking, the novel is breathtaking. Thumann’s descriptions of Leningrad are stark, but I was thoroughly impressed by how the author captured the realities of the situation through the eyes of a stranded American woman. I also appreciated how he balanced the challenges faced by civilians against the action and brutality of survival on the front lines. The details are fascinating and I think Thumann did an amazing job recreating the period for his readers.

I found the cast interesting, but slightly less dynamic. Karen is driven, but she is also selfish and rather single-minded. I didn’t admire her at all and frequently found myself rolling my eyes over her decisions. Petr had moments, but I found his character one dimensional and Bobby had potential, but he was noticeably less developed than the other narrators and I thought that damaged the intensity of the love triangle at the heart of the story. That said, I was quite impressed with members of the supporting cast. Inna, Sasha, Lenka, Krause, and Duck fascinated me and I found myself intrigued by the personalities and story lines Thumann created for them.

The pacing lent an addictive quality to the text and I found myself oddly satisfied with both climax and conclusion of the narrative. The Undersirables is a very different kind of war story, but I greatly enjoyed the time I spent with it and can easily see myself recommending it to other readers. 

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Those people who could not work efficiently—the slackers or naturally slovenly—should be eliminated. As Oster saw it, these people were the Russians, Bolsheviks, partisans, bohemians, and anyone else who didn’t agree with official German policy. These were the so-called undesirables. And it was good and proper that Oster and his companions were ridding the world of them. The world would become a more efficient, and more pleasant, place to live.
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