edelweiss review copy

The Witches of Echo Park (Unfinished)

witchesofechopark The Witches of Echo Park, by Amber Benson.
Published January 6th, 2015 by Berkley Publishing (Urban Fantasy)*

My rating: vintagesuitcase3

Per my 2015 reading resolution, I read 100 pages of this book – but by the time I got there, the action still had not really started, I felt nothing for any of the characters, and the world and magic rules didn’t make much sense. By the end of the first chapter following page 100, I had reason to finish this book. Flashbacks and descriptive passages, along with unlikeable characters and inconsistent characterizations, left me with a feeling of relief when I finally put it down.

Lyse, an orphan raised by her great aunt Eleonora, returns to LA when she discovers Eleonora has cancer – and only months to live. Eleonora is glad to have Lyse back, mostly because Lyse is needed to take over the coven that Eleonora leads. There are witches in Echo Park (you guessed that, right?) and Eleonora is the Head Witch. There is some Great Evil preparing to descend on the world, and Lyse is Our Only Hope to defeat it. Trouble is, she doesn’t know magic exists. Or, more specifically, that her great-aunt is a witch.

(more…)

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Vibrant Empress Theodora lives on in The Secret History

thesecrethistoryThe Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora by Stephanie Thornton
NAL Trade, July 2nd, 2013 (Historical Fiction)*

My rating: Outstanding Adventure

This rags-to-riches novel, about Theodora, wife of Roman Emperor Justinian I, contains intrigue, political maneuverings, travel and adventure, romance, hardship, betrayal, heartbreak, and personal success. The author transports her readers back to sixth century Byzantium with vivid prose about daily life in the late Roman Empire, from the impoverished circumstances of Theodora’s youth to the glittering world of the nobility.

It follows Theodora’s struggle to succeed against all odds, to make a better life for herself and her children – and along the way, she enchants and captures the heart of the very Emperor.

Her characters are complex and compelling. Theodora herself is charming, independent, tough, determined, and shrewd, but with a troublesome (and endearing) unerring ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Relationships between protagonists in this novel are complicated and realistic (there’s the rivalry, affection, misunderstandings, good intentions and sometimes hatred between Theodora and her sister). There are plenty of strong female characters, who work within the patriarchal system to get what they want and need, which for me, made the time period more believable and the story more enjoyable.

The novel is packed with action, travel, adventure, and suspense. At times it loses some of the up-close-and-personal atmospheric setting, but makes for a very intense, engaging read.

A few anachronistic phrases threw me out of the story, but I found the novel completely engrossing otherwise – for its action, characters, depictions of relationships, and believable world building.

Fans of historical fiction and adventure will love this tale of the Eastern Roman Empire.

*e-ARC provided by Edelweiss

Read-alikes

For strong heroines and stupendous historical fiction that brings the past alive:
Into the Wilderness (Wilderness #1) Through a Glass Darkly (Through a Glass Darkly #2)

For historical fiction about the ancient world:
The Beacon at Alexandria Mara, Daughter of the Nile

Intrigue in Egypt in ‘Shadows on the Nile’

17165591Shadows on the Nile by Fate Furnival*
Berkley Trade, October 1, 2013 (Historical Fiction / Mystery)
Rating: I’d Go There Again

Shadows on the Nile is a mystery set in 1932 London and Egypt. Jessica Kenton’s stable life is threatened when her younger brother, Timothy, vanishes. Jessica is charged with finding her brother, never dreaming that it will take her to exotic Egypt. Along the way, Jessica gains the “help” of impoverished aristocrat, Monty, who has his own motives for getting involved. On the trail for her brother, Jessica finds herself with more trouble than she bargained for and her family’s closely held secret will be revealed.

This was my first Furnivall novel and I loved it! The novel was very atmospheric and I loved the transition from London to Egypt and the contrast that these two made. The mystery was revealed slowly and at times I was frustrated at the pacing, but it never made me want to put the book down. Within Jessica’s narrative we also have interludes by what starts out as a mysterious voice, which we later learn is Jessica’s “true” brother. While I liked the writing style in her brother’s voice I did think it hampered the pacing a little bit. The storyline with Jessica’s “real” brother also seemed like a little bit of an awkward addition to the mystery and I have mixed feelings about its inclusion.

I also liked the romance aspect to the book, it was never the centre of the story, but added another layer to the central mystery plot. Monty was a rather ambiguous character, making it difficult to understand his motives for helping Jessica. What’s never in question is Monty’s feelings towards Jessica, but readers are kept in suspense as to whether or not Monty is the “good guy.” I liked the addition of this relationship and I think it will appeal to readers who want a more character-driven novel.

The time period in which Shadows on the Nile was set is what really made this book for me. I find Egypt in the 1930s to be extremely interesting period since it’s characterized as a time of exploration and cultural pillage. I liked that Furnivall addressed the moral ambiguity of British citizens removing Egyptian artifacts without permission. It’s an interesting period and to be honest, completely reminds me of the movie, The Mummy – minus the whole supernatural dead rising from the grave to wreak havoc on the city. Since I loved that movie, I felt predisposed to enjoy Shadows on the Nile. While Shadows did not have any supernatural elements to it, the atmospheric historical setting really appealed to me.

Overall, I loved the mystery, the historical setting and the dash of romance that rounded out this novel, which is saying something since I’m very picky about my historical fiction.

*e-ARC provided by Edelweiss

Read-Alikes (click on any of the following images to be taken to that book’s Goodreads description):

Crocodile on the Sandbank (Amelia Peabody #1)ResurrectionJasmine NightsThe Dressmaker

Book Review: A Conspiracy of Alchemists

conspiracy of alchemists A Conspiracy of Alchemists by Liesel Schwarz
Publisher: Del Rey
Date: March 5, 2013
Genre: Steampunk/Urban Fantasy
Series: The Chronicles of Light and Shadow
My rating: Vacation by the beach
e-ARC provided by Edelweiss

A Conspiracy of Alchemists follows Elle Chance, female dirigible pilot in an alternate early 20th century. In this world, alchemists and warlocks subtly grapple for the limited magical power that remains. Vampires and alchemists are allies, and absinthe fairies are sustained only by alcohol, preferably absinthe. Light – technology, science, and reason – is echoed and opposed by Shadow, the magical forces and beings in the world.

The novel opens with a new commission for Elle, who is given a mysterious fair by her friend and client in Paris. This box, unknown to Elle, is coveted by the alchemists and warlocks both. Before she even reaches her dirigible for the commissioned trip to London, she becomes embroiled in the chaos surrounding the Shadow power struggle.

The prologue is narrated in first person by an absinthe fairy, who plays a secondary role as the plot moves along. It is abrupt and bluntly foreshadowing. I found the fairy-narrated interludes more distracting than anything else, although they did provide contextual information about the plot.

The plot is very fast-paced and action-packed, beginning from the opening of the first chapter and continuing throughout the book. It includes a romantic development, international travel (in dirigibles, trains, and the first-ever ‘copter). I couldn’t put it down.

I enjoyed the characters. Except for the occasional jarring note (there is no explanation of why Marsh goes from hating beautiful women to being in love with Elle, and Elle’s development as the Oracle could have been give more space), they were believable and well-drawn. I especially liked Elle’s determined, flying in the face of convention attitude toward achieving her dream of flying. Marsh is a solid hero, and although done before, Elle’s absentminded, genius father is delightful.

The world-building is good, for the most part. I found the conspiracy unmemorable, and the descriptions of some of the magical events (especially the ending) were sketchy. Sometimes the different magical elements didn’t seem to mesh very well. Overall the world is a very interesting, unique take on steampunk alternate histories, and I look forward to discovering more about the world and the magical rules in the next volume.

I will definitely read the next one, especially hoping to find out more about the laws of this universe, and what happens next. This is a great entry into the paranormal/urban fantasy/steampunk/alternate history mesh of genres, and fans of Gail Carriger and Meljean Brook should be delighted.

Read-alikes:

For a really great series that ties clockwork gadgetry into epic fantasy and multiple worlds, with a dash of light romance, I highly recommend “The Fall of Ile-Rien” series by Martha Wells:

The Wizard Hunters (The Fall of Ile-Rien #1)

For a similar read with a Wild West twist and slightly more romance, check out:

Native Star (Veneficas Americana #1)

If you like a lot of romance and a few racy scenes with your steampunk, try:

The Iron Duke (The Iron Seas #1)