Book Review: Romanov

I love history, I love books, so when someone decides to write a historical fiction, I grumble under my breath and roll my eyes. My mother lovingly calls me a history snob. Usually with a laugh, because it is right after me ranting about how this movie or that book got some history wrong. I really hate it when books get history wrong. I mean, a detail here or there isn’t so bad, but most of the time authors take the general idea of the era and then do whatever they want. Ugh.

You are probably expecting this to be a long rant on how much I hated this book. Wrong!

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The history books say I died.

They don’t know the half of it.

Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. (might be?!? It is the only thing giving them hope at the moment!) But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them, and he’s hunted Romanov before.

Nastya’s only chances of saving herself and her family are to either release the spell and deal with the consequences, or enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik (heh, later on anyway. At first though? Bolshevik through and through). Nastya has only dabbled in magic, but it doesn’t frighten her half as much as her growing attraction to Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her (one of my favorite romantic arcs ever).

That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad . . . and he’s on the other.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my opinions on ‘Romanov’ by Nadine Brandes.

I loved it. Review over.

Or not. Because I can’t help myself, and because this is such a lovely book.

For one thing, Nadine Brandes actually did her research! Don’t laugh. You would be surprised how many authors don’t research. And it shows. She, on the other hand, wrote a book that was at the same time fantasy and true to history. It was fantastic. I loved how rich in detail the book was. Everything from the setting down to their clothes had the perfect details. I knew how worn their clothes were, and what the apartments looked like, and she never had to bore me with a long page of description.

It was those details that showed the era and climate the characters lived in far more than the date and place.

That, writers, is why you research.

It can be tricky to write any historical novel, especially one that deals with such high profile people as the Romanov family. Yet once again, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of research Nadine Brandes did. I felt like I knew these people. I felt closer to them that I would have if I had picked up a biography (and believe me, I had). Yet I knew the family had been portrayed correctly. There was no let down later when I realized that she had mussed with peoples personalities and beliefs. Yes, the story was fictional and some of the scenarios. But she had drawn from real life people and events, and did those people and events justice.

I think my favorite part of the book was the characters. Each and every character captured my attention and held it. I miss those people and I have never even met them! Oh, the woes of a bookworm.

Nastya has three sisters, and each one of them has an integral part to the story. Far from being nameless backdrops to her own story, their lives and stories intertwine and intersect with her own. But by far, other than Nastya, my favorite character was her father, Nicholas Romanov. The strong man who loves his enemies and sees the good in people. He is the one who makes friends with his guards, even if his guards hate him. He is the one who strives to understand his captors. Nicholas Romanov is the rock of his family, the one who keeps them all together.

No I didn’t cry. No I am not crying. Be quiet.

I loved Nastya. The precious little person who is trying so hard to help her family. Her struggles with being gracious to her captors and not being bitter tugged at my heart. It was so hard for her to be friendly to those who obviously hated her, but she got up and did it anyway. When anything was hard, Nastya did not back down. She did it. Whether she liked it or not, she did what needed to be done to help her family.

Lets talk plot. This is by no means your typical fantasy novel with epic journies and huge battles with world wide stakes. This is a story about a family put under house arrest. A family trying to come to terms with a country who now hates them. A country they had dedicated their lives to serving.

As a result, the plot does not go swiftly. And I loved it. The long periods of rest and reflection in between the bits of action revealed the characters. You got to know them, their dreams and wishes, and why each one acted the way they did.

This isn’t to say that the book dragged on. Definitely not. Each period of rest was preceded by a tense bit of action where you are holding your breath the whole time hoping against hope that things turn out alright.

That doesn’t even mention the tension through out the whole book as the reader is wondering if the family will escape or not. Will this work? Will it not? Will they ever get out alive!?!

SPOILER ALERT: I have to say that after the Romanov family died, I was a little bit bored. I was mostly reading it for the family, and when they were gone, I felt like quite a bit of the tension leaked out of the story. It did still keep my attention though. SPOILER OVER

The pacing was very well done throughout the book. It didn’t drag at any points, and didn’t rush along helter skelter either. Each point of high stakes and heart pounding chases was tempered by a point of character interaction. Yay for balance!

Oookay, I have to touch on the romance before I leave. When Nastya and Zash meet. He immediately hates her. She is wary of him and frustrated that her attempts to befriend him fall flat. He has preconceived notions of her, she decides very quickly who he is. Obviously, they are both wrong. Here is the thing though. It doesn’t go from enemies to lovers within a chapter. They are friends first. Friends before romance, imagine that!

They talk, laugh, argue, he builds a swing for her, all things that friends do. Well, except maybe for the heated arguments about her parents.

I actually really liked those arguments. Because each of them had a valid point. Neither side had a weak argument. And they both presented them well. You were forced to see both sides of the question they were arguing, and decide for yourself who was right. Because the characters did not necessarily do that for you. Zash and Nastya pushed each other to think, to see another side, and to truly decide for themselves instead of buying into whatever they had been told. And it is out of that friendship that a romance is born.

If you love historical fantasy, and are curious and or fascinated by the Romanov family and the Russian Revolution, definitely pick up this book!

I would recommend it to mid to late teens and above, while nothing is graphic, there are many of tense situations. And one scene with quite a bit of death.

All in all, ‘Romanov’ was one of my favorite reads this year. It most definitely earned its five stars. * * * * *

Shaina Merrick

Book Review: A Foreshadowed Way

Hello hello! The book I have for you today was given to me in exchange for an honest review. May I introduce Jorgan the Sphere by Patrick Lauser. It is a self published novella you can find on Amazon. All opinions on the book are quite mine own.

Jorgan the Sphere: A Foreshadowed Way by [Lauser, Patrick]

It is about a little ball who lived in a flower. (don’t freak out, it is an insanely interesting little ball)

One day he went across the meadow and had many fine adventures. (I wouldn’t call them fine, but they were adventures)

This is not a story for the faint of heart.

A dark fairy-tale, a gray-scale fantasy, a simple, surreal vision. (I have never heard the term gray-scale fantasy before, but it really does fit this little book)

Jorgan the sphere in his hunger follows a shadow into shadows, and seeks an end to his longing in lands full of cruel and indifferent creatures. He meets those who even in the darkest places work goodness, those that are strong, those that are weak, and those that are quite odd. (lots and lots of odd)

From a breathless sky to a bottomless pit he seeks rest, passing through blood and fire, toil and snares, otherworldly wastelands, and the forbidden world of spirits. He finds and loses friends, and makes an enemy that will hunt him through the worlds to draw him lower than death.

Yet in the darkness he finds the shadows of light, and the truth of the hunger that leads him.

First off, let me just say that there had better be a second one. That ending left too many questions for there to be only one! I think there is a second one planned, which makes me feel slightly better. Only slightly.

At first, I thought this book was a picture book. You know, the kind that you find in the children’s section. There were a few words, and then a picture of Jorgan the Sphere. Then a few more words, and another picture. And just as I was thinking how quick and easy this book would be to read, there came a whole page of words. Followed by a few more pages like it. It is not a kids picture book.

Yes, Jorgan is a real sphere. It is not a metaphor. Personally, I tended to think of him as a marble. He rolls through his entire journey and can traverse places others might fear to tread. He also catches things though, and I am thinking it is something like Veggies Tales where things float in the air around them and you just pretend you can see limbs.

I liked the characters, Jorgan was an interesting hero in that he had a very simple goal in the beginning. He is hungry. But that goal, and hunger, morphs into something bigger as the stakes grow larger and larger until they envelop not only him, but his friends and his world.

My favorites were the side characters, the wise hour glass who knows so much but is not allowed to sleep and Sky, the odd bird who always did the opposite of what you expected it to.

Lets talk plot. What started as a simple story about a little sphere builds over the length of the story to a multi faceted story that you begin to realize has a deeper meaning other than a cute story. Okay, cute is the wrong word. But you get the idea.

At first, all Jorgan wants to do is eat. And hey, why not eat that shadow over there? Logical choice. So he follows the shadow into another shadow, a big one. That shadow is hiding a whole world full of strange creatures and people trying to survive.

Creatures that stalk you in the night, birds with maces as heads, and an hour glass that talks, it is all rather odd. Jorgan keeps traveling on, keeps searching for the shadow he followed there.

The search eventually brings him to one of the creepiest characters I have come across yet. The Swan Child. Literally half child and half swan. This particular being claims to heal people, and even be able to raise them from the dead. He does this by sprinkling his own blood on them. Except, there is a catch. And this catch is the death of many.

When Jorgan finally escapes the Swan Child, his search changes. I got the idea that he wanted to go home now, but I was a slight bit confused. I knew he wanted to leave the shadow of the dark side of the sun, but to get there he had to go to the shadow of the dark side of the moon. I think.

He is no longer seeking the shadow, he wants to escape from it. A decision I backed up whole heartedly. Unfortunately, to do so he has to cross even more of this strange and dangerous world.

And that end! Ugh. He gets so close to what he desires, only to realize that he is farther away from it than before he started. And then there is the whole thing about being outside of one shadow, but still inside another… I would have preferred a bit more closure at the end. But I really like tied up endings, where the plot threads are all tied off nicely with nobody missing. It is also a first book so… Other people may like the end. It just was not my favorite.

Also, it would have been nice if a little bit more explanation was offered. There was explanation of what exactly Jorgan was after, and some wise people gave him the way to find it, but much of it was bound up in allegorical riddles, and I am bad at riddles.

However, I did like how the story went from simple to complex in a gradual fashion. There were no sudden jerks or places where the plot dragged. It all went smoothly from one scene to the other with a slow raise in tension and stakes.

What I really liked about this book was the prose. Everything was described beautifully and I especially loved the way he wrote the journey scenes (something I have trouble with). It was almost graceful, the way the prose lilted from sentence to the next. I would pick up the authors next work for the way he wrote alone.

I would hesitate to recommend ‘A Foreshadowed Way’ to any one younger than thirteen because the world that Jorgan passes through is dark. Which you would expect, it being under a shadow and all, buuut. It is definitely a mature book, and I think an older teen and adult would understand the book better and therefore get more enjoyment out of it.

Quick piece of advice, don’t read the part about the Swan Child at night. Just, don’t.

If you like lovely prose and interesting worlds, I would definitely recommend this book. Enjoy your reading!

Shaina Merrick

Book Review: The Old Man and the Sea

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Welcome to the latest edition of book reviews. Where I talk about a book that broke a bunch of writing rules and still ended up becoming a classic. Without further ado, let me introduce you to ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ by Ernest Hemingway.

The last novel Ernest Hemingway saw published, The Old Man and the Sea has proved itself to be one of the enduring works of American fiction. (as in people actually know it exists after the author died? Or that people sort of know the plot so many years later?) It is the story of an old Cuban fisherman and his supreme ordeal: a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. (you are being dramatic, it was only agonizing at the end and it wasn’t that far out in the gulf stream.) Using the simple, powerful language of a fable, (best part) Hemingway takes the timeless themes of courage in the face of defeat and personal triumph won from loss and transforms them into a magnificent twentieth-century classic.

Note: I apologize for the terrible summary, but they were all terrible and this was the best I could find without having to write one myself.

One of the best parts about this book is that it is short. I was able to read it in an afternoon. Yay! Though I have a feeling that I would have read it even if it was a thousand pages long. You kind of get sucked in…

Yes, the book really is about an old man. And that is what he is called for the entire book, the old man. The only other character who makes multiple appearances is called the boy. They do have names, Hemingway just didn’t bother to use them. As a writer who tends to forget to name her characters until half way through the novel, I appreciated that part.

Please don’t think that because the novella is about an old man that you won’t be interested, that it will be boring, and that it won’t be relatable. To that I say, Ha! I am neither old, or a man, and I was sucked into Santiago’s story from chapter one. I found myself hoping that he would be able to get his hand un-cramped in time. Cheering him on during his battle against the sharks.

Santiago is more than your average grandfather puttering around his house. He is strong, strong enough to keep fishing even though he hasn’t eaten anything all day. He is also stubborn, and willing to keep going even though the odds are against him. In a younger man those two character traits would be coupled with pride. But you get the idea that he lost his pride long ago. It was burned out by the hot tropical sun and washed away with the waves. The boy does so much for him, and he doesn’t complain. He is grateful for the boys help, and misses him when he is gone.

If Santiago is the heart beat of the story, the sea is the body. I don’t know the author very well, but I have a good guess that he was familiar with the ocean. He knew its colors and its moods, he knew which fish liked what depth of water and what it felt like to lose sight of land.

The whole story was there for Hemingway to describe the ocean. Any narrative pieces were quickly got out of the way so that he could get back to his favorite topic. Which is where he broke the rules.

All writers are told this over and over and over again to ‘show, don’t tell’. Show the characters emotions, show the world, show the characters, don’t tell unless you absolutely have to. It is great advice, but I present to you an entire book that took that advice and put it on its head.

If Santiago was hungry, Hemingway said he was hungry. If he was scared, that was told to you to. No, the author never sat down and sketched out exactly what he looked like and what his character was, he let you figure that out yourself. He kept all his telling to the narrative bits, the bits that he got out of the way as soon as possible so that he could get back to showing you the ocean.

Which isn’t to say that the whole book was a disguised essay on ocean life. There was plenty going on, he just didn’t waste a bunch of words on it. Even though I would think it is a big deal when Santiago finally gets that fish, Hemingway just lets you know it happened, then moves on with what is happening next. It isn’t a breakneck pace, but it isn’t slow either. The pace is a steady walk through the story, ending when you suddenly turn a corner and realize that you have arrived at your destination.

If you are interested in reading something that takes the conventional way of novel writing and bends them, give it a try! At least its short, and if you hate it you won’t have spent an entire day on it. But I don’t think you will hate it.

It is clean as far as content goes, and I would be happy to recommend it to an age.

I think ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ deserves its five stars: * * * * *

Shaina Merrick

Book Review: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club

I just stayed up waaay too late finishing this book. Even though I was tired, even though I had work in the morning. I couldn’t put it down. I either found out what happened to Jo and her sisters, or I had a sleepless night wondering about it! Either way, I wasn’t going to sleep much, so I may as well satisfy my curiosity.

To satisfy your curiosity, here is the blurb!

Jo, the firstborn, “The General” to her eleven sisters, is the only thing the Hamilton girls have in place of a mother. She is the one who taught them how to dance, the one who gives the signal each night, as they slip out of the confines of their father’s townhouse to await the cabs that will take them to the speakeasy. (in case you don’t know what this is, in the 1920’s alcohol was illegal. The only way you could drink was to go to a night club, or speakeasy) Together they elude their distant and controlling father, until the day he decides to marry them all off.

The girls, meanwhile, continue to dance, from Salon Renaud (once) to the Swan (once) and, finally, the Kingfisher, the club they come to call home. They dance until one night when they are caught in a raid, separated, and Jo is thrust face-to-face with someone from her past: a bootlegger named Tom whom she hasn’t seen in almost ten years. (yeees, loved this part and the backstory that came with it!) Suddenly Jo must weigh in the balance not only the demands of her father and eleven sisters, but those she must make of herself. (yeah yeah, it wasn’t that hard of a decision to make, stop playing it up for tension)

With The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, award-winning writer Genevieve Valentine takes her superb storytelling gifts to new heights, joining the leagues of such Jazz Age depicters as Amor Towles and Paula McClain, and penning a dazzling tale about love, sisterhood, and freedom. (mostly sisterhood, slightly less freedom, and not really about love at all)

This book would not be every ones cup of tea. It moves slowly, even as it is building to the climax. There are a few bits of quick action, but they disappear as soon as they come. There is a lot of backstory, especially in the first half of the book.

I enjoyed it, I thought the backstory and flash backs were woven in well. It was a flow of thought that made sense. Rather than wondering how the character had gotten from point A to point B.

Most of the story is from Jo’s point of view. A great choice, because she is the one making the decisions and pushing the plot along. Yes, there are other people making decisions around her, and doing things that affect her, but she is the one that moves the plot.

Jo is the perfect illustration of an active protagonist. One who acts rather than reacts. When her father decides to attempt to marry them all off, she tries to get on top of the situation. She is trying to keep her sisters safe, and knows that to do that she will need to control as much of this as possible.

She is a strong character, without being able to beat up anyone who crosses her path. She doesn’t go against the ideas of the time, much anyway, she is strong enough without having to push against the grain. Which, honestly, is a relief. A breath of fresh air in a world full of heroines that can do everything. Save the guy, flirt with the guy, and get the guy. She has her points of weakness, and learns what they are.

A main theme of the book is that Jo can not do everything. Her sisters are their own people, who must make their own decisions. She learns, slowly, that the more she tries to control them, the easier it will be to lose them.

However, this book was not focused solely on Jo alone. There are twelve girls. Twelve characters each with their own motivations and dreams. Somehow, Genevieve Valentine made each one of the girls come alive. They all got a little snippet of the story that wove itself into the plot as a whole, she didn’t leave you wondering why the plot had stopped in order to characterize.

I loved the characters, Jo mostly, but like I said. The plot is slow. I enjoyed the slow pace that explored the ins and outs of Jo’s decisions. However, not that much happens in the first bit of the book. I never did feel like the plot was dragging though. It slowly picked up steam in a very satisfying way, ending in a BIG event that shakes everything up. Then is all calms back down again for a while.

I did feel like the end dragged a bit though. It was a good wrap up, but it took such a long time from what felt like the climax was to the end. It was a good end, an end that caused a sigh of happiness. But a long ending, so both good and bad I guess?

I would recommend this book to late teens and up. There are a couple of content issues, such as a romantic scene (mostly off screen, but it still happened), and a couple cuss words.

Over all, I would give this book 4 stars. * * * *

What have you guys been reading lately? Anything good? Anything gag worthy? I would love to make my tbr list bigger! 😉

Shaina Merrick

Book Review: Belinda

I think Goodreads is about to despair of me. I forget to add books that I am reading. So I am often playing catch up. Or there will be books that I have been reading for a better part of the month until I finally get around to either actually finished it. Or telling Goodreads that I am finished with it. Such was the case of Belinda.

It took me the better part of a month to read this book. Partly because the print was extremely tiny. (tiny print is a ploy to get busy people to think freakishly long books are small, and so pick them up. They only realize their fatal mistake when it is too late to go back.) Partly because there were so. Many. Conversations. You may think that dialogue is easy to read. Not if the dialogue needs to be carefully followed to be understood!

Anyway. Enough complaining. I got through it, and am here to explain to you why I marched on through the tiny print.

The lively comedy of this novel (only if you get all the jokes! Regency wit is something else!) in which a young woman comes of age amid the distractions and temptations of London high society belies the challenges it poses to the conventions of courtship, the dependence of women, and the limitations of domesticity. (I’m really not sure where they got the ‘limitations’ idea. The married ladies do more than the single people do!) Contending with the perils and the varied cast of characters of the marriage market, Belinda strides resolutely toward independence. (Independence of heart mostly. Her fortune is only just big enough for her to be truly independent) Admired by her contemporary, Jane Austen, and later by Thackeray and Turgenev, Edgeworth tackles issues of gender and race in a manner at once comic and thought-provoking. (True, I enjoyed this aspect of the novel.) The 1802 text used in this edition also confronts the difficult and fascinating issues of racism and mixed marriage, which Edgeworth toned down in later editions. (All novelists eventually succumb to public opinion. Unless they are brave warriors willing to be social outcasts.)

Interested yet? I will admit. It is not a great synopsis. It says nothing about the love triangle, or quack doctors, or even my favorite character. But then again, most synopsis for classics are terrible. They either say too much or too little. The person in charge of writing them should be soundly scolded.

But back to Belinda! The main character of this charming novel is who it is named after. Belinda is our heroine trying to make sense of London society. She is guided through it by Lady Delacour. Though guided may be too strong a word for it. We will get to the particulars of that in a moment.

Belinda has been taught by her Aunt Stanhope to look for the richest husband possible. And then catch him by any means possible. Mrs. Stanhope is a renowned matchmaker, and all men are in terror of being caught by one of her nieces. Quite the barrier to poor Belinda, who has never quite bought into what her aunt has said, but is still suffering the consequences of her aunts bad matches. She soon realizes that if she wants to be respected, not just liked, she must ignore all of her aunts advice and find her own way. Good luck dear, for the example you have before you is a bad one.

It is soon after Belinda has a break with her aunt that she realizes that Lady Delacour is not the best person to model her behavior after. Good job for realizing that a flirt is not a good person to emulate. How many pages did it take for you to realize that?

But at the same time, she learns Lady Delacours secret. A secret she has hidden from everyone except for her servant, and now Belinda. Lady Delacour is dying, and instead of seeking medical help. She is determined to live as fast as she can before her time runs out. In case you were wondering, it doesn’t work too well. It only leads to pain and misery as the novel clearly shows.

But where, you may be wondering, is the love story I was promised? Well, about that….

Yes, Belinda is a love story. A very slow moving love story full of side tracks, miscommunications, and a comedy of errors. Yet the book is more about the friendship between her and Lady Delacour.

Lady Delacour is the force that moves the novel. While Belinda is more of a passive heroine. Content to let things happen around her until she must act. Lady Delacour on the other hand, is one of the main movers and shakers of the novel. She is the one who intrigues to get her two favorite people together. It is through her that the last mystery is solved and everyone can live happily ever after.

Yet before you think Belinda is boring and never does anything. Let me ease your mind. Belinda is the one who reforms Lady Delacour. Through her steady friendship she convinces Lady Delacour that there are better things to live for. That perhaps she has not wasted her entire life. Belinda is the one who reconciles the Lady to her daughter, and later to her husband. Feats that seemed impossible at the beginning of the novel.

It is Belinda and Lady Delacours friendship that moves and shapes that entire novel.

But have no fear! There is a love story, and it does have a happy ending. Contrary to all popular belief. (popular being me, myself, and I. I haven’t found anyone who has read it yet)

What I really like about this love story is that the hero is no Mr. Darcy. Unless you can imagine Mr. Darcy with enough flaws for a long list, a tendency to do before he thought, and being an extrovert. No? Then let me introduce you to Mr. Clarence Hervey. The young man who at the beginning of the novel has some bad friends, and thinks he is the most amazing person ever. Not quite marriageable material yet.

Thankfully, he grows up. Which includes ditching his bad friends and finding new ones. It also includes falling in love with the right girl. Instead of a silly one. (dude, you had bad taste)

It can sound odd that I liked this hero so much, even with his flaws. But you see, I liked him because of his flaws. He was interesting because he wasn’t perfect. I was more apt to like him and root for him because he was struggling uphill to make the right choices. Sometimes he failed, but that only made me root for him harder. Ready to see him get back up and try again.

So by the time Mr. Hervey and Belinda finally got together, it wasn’t an inevitable conclusion. It was a sigh a relief and a smile to see two characters I liked triumphing over adversity.

So if you are going to read it or any reason, read it for the characters. Read it for the complicated, multifacted relationships the characters have with each other. Most of all, read it for Lady Delacour. She is hilarious.

That, was a ridiculously long review. By this point you are either sick of the entire book or itching to read it. (sorrynotsorry) Let me know if you do end up reading it though. Quick tip, keep Google handy while you read it. There are a couple things that even the footnotes don’t explain. (like what on earth an E O table is….)

Anyway. Happy reading!

Shaina Merrick