Christine’s Review of Under the Same Stars by Tim Lott

utsstlI think there are two kinds of books in this world. The first kind knows exactly what type of book they are, whether it be fantasy, romance, literary, or contemporary fiction. They embrace what they are and try to be the very best book they can be. Sometimes they are great, sometimes they are good, and sometimes they are terrible, but at least they know what book they are.

The second kind of book doesn’t know what it is. Very often, it wants to be another type of book so badly but just doesn’t measure up, so it fails at being the book it should be as well as the one it wants to be.

In my opinion, Under the Same Stars falls into the latter category.

From the publisher:

It is late summer 2008 and, as the world economy goes into meltdown, forty-year-old Salinger Nash, plagued since adolescence by a mercurial depression, leaves the London house he shares with his girlfriend, Tiane, for his older brother’s home in the Garden District of New Orleans. Carson Nash has persuaded Salinger they should find their missing father, Henry- last known location Las Cruces, New Mexico. But it is with a sense of foreboding that Salinger sets off with his brother. Painfully aware that their own relationship is distant and strained, will dragging up the past and confronting their father going to help or harm them? Meanwhile back in London, Tiane isn’t answering Salinger’s increasingly urgent messages. Why? Tender, funny, unflinching, this is a road trip story in the great American literary tradition and an exploration of sibling rivalry that harks back to Cain and Abel. A vivid glimpse of a Britain’s ‘brother country’ through the eyes of a skeptical outsider, a profound exploration of fraternal love and a gripping journey of the soul.

The story of Cain and Abel is an old one, and has been retold in many, many forms. I think it resonates with us because our human nature, as well as and how we react to jealously, rejection, and guilt, hasn’t really changed and we relate to it still. I think Under the Same Stars wanted to be a thoughtful, literary retelling of the Cain and Abel story, but it feels forced and relies on references to other books to explain itself. It’s one thing to refer to another book, so when Salinger (this book’s version of Abel) picks up a copy of East of Eden (one of the greatest Cain & Abel re-imaginings), I rolled my eyes. But when he then reads a very thoughtful, crucial, and philosophical conversation from East of Eden out loud to Carson (the Cain character), I laughed and immediately wanted to put the book down and re-read East of Eden.

There were a few other things I did not enjoy about this story, namely a horrific act of violence against a dog. I almost did not finish the book after that happened, but I wanted to see if I could understand why the author thought it was necessary to include that bit. Honestly, I understand why it’s there, he’s showing us Cain’s violent side, but I don’t think it served the story and felt it was written for shock value more than anything.

I do believe this book could have been an interesting exploration of America and a good contemporary road trip story, but instead it tried too hard to be too many things and I felt it failed at all of them.

2 out of 5 Stars

Under the Same Stars by Tim Lott
Simon and Schuster UK (2012)
Hardcover: 352 pages
ISBN: 9781847373052

Special thanks to Simon & Schuster UK for my review copy!

Christine’s Review of A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

aNHoD Cover 300dpiA few months ago I opened up an email from Kim with the subject “Coming Soon: A Natural History Of Dragons by Marie Brennan”, asking if I wanted a copy to review. I replied “HEEEELLLLLLLSSSSS YEEEEEAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!”, because I am a professional. I love fantasy. I love dragons. So yes, the second I read the synopsis of A Natural History of Dragons, I absolutely wanted to read it.

In a world much like ours during the Victorian era, there is a girl, Isabella, who is fascinated by dragons. Because she is a girl, she is discouraged from pursuing scientific studies, but because she is awesome she doesn’t care and she eventually becomes Lady Trent, a preeminent dragon naturalist. The premise of the novel is you are reading Lady Trent’s memoir of how she progressed from a bookish girl who went against the conventions of her time to become the renowned expert on dragons.

Based on the title of the book and the synopsis I read, I assumed this was going to be a memoir of Lady Trent’s entire life and work with dragons, so I was a bit disappointed at the length of the book (about 330 pages) when it arrived in my mailbox. I was a third of the way through the book before I realized my assumption was wrong, and this was the first book in a series. This isn’t a bad thing at all, but it wasn’t what I was expecting, and sometimes that can alter one’s view of a book. That said, I enjoyed this book. It was a fun read and an interesting take on the fantasy/dragon genre. Lady Trent’s voice as she narrates her early years is engaging and I loved the moment’s when she would basically say, “Look, I was young. I was an idiot. I’ve learned a lot since then, but I’m being honest and this is how I was back then.”

The book recounts Isabella’s childhood and her first adventure as a young woman to the foreign land of Vystrana in search of dragons, which is where most of the story happens. There are foreign customs to learn, mysteries to solve, bandits to escape from, possible curses to break, and above all, dragons to search for and study. Isabella’s time in Vystrana very much reminded me of an adventure story along the lines of the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (don’t tell me I’m the only one who loved that TV series), only told through the perspective of an older and wiser Lady Trent.

I would have rather read a longer “memoir” of Isabella’s entire life, but I enjoyed the first tale of her discoveries and adventures, though I did think the ending was a bit rushed. Though it is fantasy novel, I think readers of historical fiction will thoroughly enjoy the story, as the fictional world and era Isabella lives in are very close to the Victorian and Edwardian era. I can see how some readers of fantasy might wish for more fantasy aspects aside from the dragons, but I thought it was a great blend of historical fiction and fantasy. Also sprinkled throughout the book were some lovely illustrations of dragons and scenes from Isabella’s world, which definitely enhanced the story.

3 out of 5 Stars

A Natural History of Dragon: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
Tor Books (2013)
Hardcover: 336 pages
ISBN: 9780765331960

Special thanks to Tor Books for my review copy!

Christine’s Review of My Leaning Post by Lizzie Belle Quimby

9781468501209_p0_v1_s260x420In the short time I’ve been reviewing books, I’ve read a few self-published works. They have ranged from the good, the bad, to the so-so. My most recent read, however, has left me struggling with the best way to classify it. In fact, I’m not entirely sure how to rate it, or whether or not I would recommend it, because I’m not entirely sure I would call it a proper book or novel. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My Leaning Post, by Lizzie Belle Quimby, is a semi-fictionalized tale of a woman, Elizabeth Jeane, who describes the difficulties she faces throughout her life, and the faith she leans on while she struggles to understand the true meaning of her existence. Elizabeth’s life is not an easy tale to read. Her mother is distant and seemingly uncaring, while her father is having an affair with his live-in sister-in-law. Teenage Elizabeth finds herself pregnant, and although she is quickly married to the young alcoholic father, she cannot break free of the guilt and shame brought on by her Catholic upbringing. A few years later she is a divorced mother of two, abandoned by some friends and family and rejected by the church she desperately wanted to belong to, as well as becoming involved with a married man. Thus begins the long and abusive life Elizabeth finds herself trapped in, and which I struggled reading through.

My Leaning Post is definitely an interesting read for someone who is looking to get inside the head of a woman in an abusive relationship. Often I think we look at women in situations like Elizabeth Jeane and we just want to scream “Just leave! Just get up and leave him!” This book helps you understand why that seems so difficult and seemingly impossible to do. As a chronicle of what it’s like to be in an abusive relationship it is heartbreaking, but I don’t think it really worked as a novel. This is where it gets sticky for me as a reader and reviewer. My Leaning Post felt less like a book and more like an honest and matter of fact chronicle of one’s life one might write for family or friends. This is what happened, when it happened, what I was thinking, and how I felt. At times I felt like I was reading the author’s private letter to a friend or psychiatrist as she tried to sort out and explain her life. The ending was so abrupt I literally exclaimed “Wait…what?! That’s the end?” out loud and kept looking for one more chapter for a sense of closure.

At 240 pages, this isn’t a long read, but because of the subject matter and the way the story was told, I had a hard time finishing this book. Though Elizabeth Jeane does eventually break free of her abusive relationships and finds a new, deeper, more personal faith to lean on, this isn’t a light-hearted read. I wouldn’t recommend reading this unless you are looking to understand the psychology and mental state of someone in an abusive relationship.

My Leaning Post by Lizzie Belle Quimby
AuthorHouse (2011)
Paperback: 240 pages
ISBN: 9781468501209

Special thanks to Author Solutions for my review copy!

An Interview With Marie Brennan: Author of A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent

Marie BrennanJoining me on the blog today is Marie Brennan, author of A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent. We discuss DRAGONS!

Your book, A Natural History of Dragons, is a fictional memoir of a dragon naturalist. Why did you decide to tell this story in the style of a memoir?

It fit the setting, which is modeled after the real-world nineteenth century. But mostly, it was that I started writing in the first person, and it naturally fell into a retrospective mode — Isabella as an old woman, talking about what she did in her youth. Approaching it that way lets me play the two timelines off one another, taking advantage of her later perspective while also exploring the recklessness and energy that comes with being young.

Were any of the characters in your book inspired by historical figures?

Not directly, no, though I was definitely influenced by a variety of women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who distinguished themselves as scholars — Ada Lovelace, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Elizabeth Carter, and so on.

Ironically, there’s one person who should have been an inspiration, but I only became aware of her after I’d already started writing: Isabella Bird. She wasn’t a scientist, but she traveled all over the world and published a number of books about the places she visited, which included Hawai’i, Japan, Malaysia, and the American West. You might think my own Isabella is named after her, but the truth is that it’s just serendipity; my protagonist was originally going to be called Victoria. Very early on, though — possibly before I even started writing; I don’t quite remember — I decided that just didn’t feel right. On impulse, I changed it to Isabella . . . and then later learned about Isabella Bird, who bears so many similarities to my protagonist.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in writing this book?

aNHoD Cover 300dpi

Illustrations by Todd Lockwood

Making the world work. I’m an anthropologist; I don’t mind researching cultures and so on, and I did a lot of period research for the Onyx Court books. But with my protagonist being a natural historian, I needed the natural environment to hang together. Which meant spending a lot of time with a climatology textbook, trying to figure out what kind of weather my geography would produce (and how to create geography for the weather I want), then looking up the animals that would be part of that ecology, and so on. It was enough to make me wonder from time to time whether I’d rather go back to writing in the real world after all . . . .

What is your favorite character or moment in A Natural History of Dragons?

Most of the answers to that would be spoilers! For those who have read the book, though, I’ll say my favorite moment is probably the bit in the cavern — that seems like a relatively discreet way to refer to it. For those who haven’t read the book, I’ll say that a close second is the menagerie scene early on, where she meets Jacob. That scene is the first point at which you really get a full-bore dragon showing up in the story, and back when I was first playing around with this idea, it really brought the whole world to life in my mind.

How do you spend your time when you are not writing?

I watch a fair amount of TV and movies — usually while doing other tasks that require less of my concentration — and recently I’ve started playing piano again. My main hobby, though, is role-playing games. Stories are my favorite form of entertainment, and that’s a way to enjoy them with friends. Which is important when you work from home, and can easily go all day without seeing anyone other than your husband!

Is there a historical era you are especially drawn to that you enjoy researching and reading about?

Several. Obviously I have a fair interest in English history, having covered the Elizabethan period up through the Victorian in the Onyx Court books, and then branching sideways into the pseudo-Victorian setting of Isabella’s memoirs. But I’m also very much interested in pre-Meiji Japan, and Republican/Imperial Rome, and Mesoamerica (the Mayans and the Aztecs), and Viking-era Scandinavia . . . I could keep going, but I won’t. I want to learn more about China and India, too, but haven’t gotten very far with those two yet.

What book(s) are you reading now?

Spirit’s Princess, by Esther Friesner, which is set in prehistoric Japan; Farah Mendlesohn’s excellent Rhetorics of Fantasy; the YA Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis; and Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver. Plus back issues of the online magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies (I fell behind while finishing the next book of Isabella’s memoirs), which makes for little bite-sized bits in between work sessions.

Would you care to share your favorite books from your childhood?


Illustrations by Todd Lockwood

Diana Wynne Jones — very nearly everything she ever wrote, but especially The Lives of Christopher Chant, The Homeward Bounders, Eight Days of Luke, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Fire and Hemlock, which is the book that inspired me to become a writer. Also The Secret Garden, which I sort of persistently read as fantasy even though it isn’t; I had that tendency a fair bit, with books like The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (another excellent children’s writer overall).

Do you have a current book obsession—one that you shove in the face of your friends and demand they read?

The same one I’ve had for a while now: Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. They’re historical fiction (set in mid-sixteenth-century Europe), but they’ve influenced a lot of fantasy writers — and they’re really just brilliant. Not easy to get into, mind you; Dunnett’s writing style is very dense and kind of opaque, and it took me a while to learn how to process it. But once I got the hang of it, she blew the top of my skull off.

Lastly, which dragon would you most like to hang out with: Elliot of Pete’s Dragon, Puff the Magic Dragon, or The Reluctant Dragon?

I’m going to have to go with the Reluctant Dragon. Apart from my fondness for English folklore (and the fact that I’ve been to the hill where George is said to have killed his dragon), who doesn’t love a dragon that likes to read books?

If you’re interested in learning more about Marie or her novel, see the links below! If you would like to download a copy of the book cover as wallpaper for your computer, you can click here.

Marie Brennan Bio: Marie Brennan is a former academic with a background in archaeology, anthropology, and folklore, which she now puts to rather cockeyed use in writing fantasy. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to many short stories and novellas, she is also the author of A Star Shall Fall and With Fate Conspire (both from Tor Books), as well as WarriorWitchMidnight Never ComeIn Ashes Lie, and Lies and Prophecy. You can find her online at

By Marie Brennan (WebsiteTwitterGoodreads)
A Tor Hard Cover
ISBN: 978-0-7653-3196-0
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Christine’s Review of After the Fog by Kathleen Shoop

after_fogSet in the Pennsylvania town of Donora, After the Fog by Kathleen Shoop tells a story of a community nurse, Rose Pavlesic, whose life and family begin to fall apart as a dangerous fog takes over the town in 1948. While the characters and situations they find themselves in are fictional, the deadly fog from the steel and zinc mills of Donora is a very real historical event and provides a fascinating backdrop for this melodramatic story.

Rose is a no-nonsense, tough, hard-working community nurse. She is dedicated to her job and invested in the lives of the families she calls on, and she takes particular pride in her neat appearance and professional demeanor. I can see how she could come off as a cold, unlikable character, but as we learn about her background and the reasons behind her decision to become a nurse, I thought her personality was right on given the time and her station in life.

The majority of the book takes place over five days in October during the build up of the fog as we follow Rose around the town, making calls on sick families and preparing to ask the wife of a wealthy mill owner to fund her job for another year. Meanwhile, her husband is keeping secrets about his job, her brother-in-law is in trouble over gambling debts, her lazy sister-in-law refuses to do any housework, her daughter announces she doesn’t want to go to college, and her football star son declares he’d rather go to Julliard than Notre Dame the week a scout is scheduled to visit. All of these people (and more!) are living under the same roof, so needless to say the tension and drama is high.

I was really intrigued and invested in the story of Rose and the people of the mill town, but about halfway through the book I thought it lost some of its momentum. There was simply so much going on, it was a bit overwhelming. Poor Rose and her family had drama after drama, and secrets Rose thought she had long since buried and put behind her came back to haunt her. On top of all this, the fog from the mills is getting worse and people are getting sick, demanding more of Rose. Through it all, the danger of keeping secrets from those you love most and the theme of forgiveness is brought to a head by the end of the novel.

I would have enjoyed this book more if it had focused a bit more on the killer fog and perhaps one or two of the dramatic family situations Rose is struggling to work through. As it is, it reads a bit like one of the classic melodramatic films of the 40’s and 50’s, and there is nothing wrong with that. If you’re in the mood for a good historical fiction melodrama set in post-war America, After the Fog is an enjoyable and engaging read.

3 out of 5 Stars

After the Fog by Kathleen Shoop
CreateSpace (2012)
Paperback: 416 pages
ISBN: 9781469935706

Special thanks to SparkPoint Studios for my review copy!

Christine’s Review of Everblossom by Larissa Hinton

When I read the description of Everblossom by Larissa Hinton, a collection of poetry and short stories with “a dash of everything from dark fantasy to the paranormal to even romance”, I was definitely intrigued as I’m a sucker for short stories. Give me a Eudora Welty, Dawn Powell or O’ Henry Prize collection and I am a happy and content reader.  Poetry, however, is something I am still learning to love, although I have found I enjoy it most when it is read aloud by my favorite resident of Lake Wobegon. So I was interested to read the collection and see how I reacted to the poems in Everblossom as compared to the short stories.

The collection is divided into three parts: Seed, Bud, and Blossom. Each section included poems and stories relating to childhood and beginnings, adolescence and middles, and adulthood and ends. The concept is interesting—which also sums up my thoughts on the poems and stories. They are interesting, but fall short of what I enjoy and consider a good story.

I thought that many of the short stories had great potential, whether it was a tantalizing plot or unusual character. Unfortunately, they were either confusing or felt incomplete and too short. While I enjoy ambiguous endings and reading between the lines to piece together a complete plot, I don’t think that was the case with these stories. Several read like the beginning of an interesting story, and just as we were figuring out who these characters were and what this story is about, it’s over. As a reader, I felt as if the plot and characters were cut off mid-sentence rather than reading a full story that left me wanting more. One story was so short, it read like a few paragraphs lifted from a chapter of a book. In fact, I don’t think I can summarize the stories without giving away the entire beginning, middle, and end.

As for the poems, like I said earlier, I really like the idea and concept, but I thought many of them were a bit heavy-handed and didn’t think they quite fit in with the stories in the collection. I did enjoy the “WSV” (Words Speak Volumes) poems, which were composed of single word lines and reminded me of Radiohead’s “Fitter Happier“.

I did notice in the table of contents that over half of the stories contain characters from two of the author’s books, of which only one is available. However, that book was published after Everblossom was released, so I don’t think the author intended readers to have previous knowledge of the characters and world those stories are from to understand what exactly is going on in them.

Overall, I think this collection is full of interesting ideas and characters; I only wish they had been fleshed out more. As it is, I was left feeling unsatisfied as a reader.

2.5 out of 5 Stars

Everblossom by Larissa Hinton
Larissa Hinton (2011)
eBook: 61 pages
ISBN: 2940013099647

Special thanks to Ms. Hinton for my review copy!

Christine’s Review of The Cottage by Alan K. Austin

I love Shakespeare.  And like any red-blooded American, I love a good conspiracy theory.  Conspiracy theories are the backbone of this country.  Since I am not only an American, but also a lover of English literature, I love conspiracy theories about who was the “true” author of Shakespeare’s plays.  So when I was offered The Cottage to read and review, I thought it was a perfect match.

The Cottage is a mystery novel that revolves around Jack Duncan, a documentary filmmaker, who is trying to get to the bottom of the Shakespeare conspiracy whilst also trying to solve the mystery of what happened to his missing fiancée. If that sounds a bit odd and like it doesn’t tie in together–it’s because it doesn’t. The mystery and plots of The Cottage are so disjointed and confusing, that I honestly don’t know how to write a decent summary of this book. So I’ll just give you the official summary.

Filmmaker Jack Duncan knows almost nothing about Terri Osborne, but is so entranced by her that he proposes, and, to his surprise, she accepts. Celebrating in an Omaha restaurant known as a hangout for actors, Duncan is distracted by a stranger who tries to interest him in filming a story about a mystery hundreds of years old. While his back is turned, Terri vanishes—from both the present and, it seems, from the past, as though she had existed for only a few months.

Duncan eventually summons police for help in finding Terri, but then realizes that he is their main suspect in her disappearance. As his arrest seems imminent he is sent to England to oversee a filmed quest for the “real” Shakespeare. But Duncan’s “escape” to England is not so lucky after all. The Keepers of the Shakespeare Myth have some nasty surprises waiting for him. And the pleasant old literary mystery leads him straight into a timeless nightmare in which no one can be trusted and he himself may be the villain.

The investigation in Nebraska becomes inexplicably intertwined with the mysteries in England and a race ensues to determine who will be lucky enough to destroy Jack Duncan and bury the truth about Shakespeare for good.

I was so confused by the end of this book that I honestly didn’t know how to approach this review. So I’m just going to give it you straight. The characters are one-dimensional.  The plot and subplots make little to no sense.  Towards the end of the book, we are introduced to even more plot with regards to Jack Duncan’s life and his missing fiancée and we leave the Shakespeare conspiracy behind entirely.  It came out of left field and left me yelling “WHAT?!” at my copy of the book.  In the end, it just made me want to watch Shakespeare and read conspiracy theories on Wikipedia, which I did.  For what it’s worth, Christopher Plummer in The Tempest is wonderful and I still subscribe to the “Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare” theory. I recommend forgetting about the question of authorship and enjoying a night at your local community’s summer production of a Shakespeare play. Trust me, they are everywhere and they are more enjoyable than The Cottage.

1 out of 5 stars

The Cottage by Alan K. Austin
iUniverse (2011)
Paperback: 224 pages
ISBN: 9781462068692

Special thanks to Sandy from Author Solutions for sending me my review copy!

The Female Hero with K. Hollan Van Zandt, author of Written in the Ashes + GIVEAWAY

Joining us on the blog today to discuss her new novel Written in the Ashes is author K. Hollan Van Zandt!  Please help me in welcoming her as she discusses women and feminism in books!  (I reviewed Written in the Ashes yesterday, so make sure you check out that post too!)

I will tell you a something not many people know about me.

I am a feminist. Gloria Steinem is one of my greatest heroes.

So for my first novel, Written in the Ashes, I wanted to write a story that would illustrate the female hero’s journey, because what we have everywhere in literature is the example of the man’s hero’s journey.

Even Harry Potter, bless him, isn’t Harriet Potter.

So what is the heroine’s journey? I think, as women, it isn’t so much about riding out to slay the dragon. We don’t really do that sort of thing very often. Most women are nurturers. We would ride out to heal the sick dragon. We would risk our lives and being scorched to be sure the dragon got its medicine and could be well enough to take care of its dragon family.

That’s what women do.

But yet, our dying world does not reflect that value. The world is being conquered to death. Her valuable resources raped to death. And we are in the eleventh hour.

So I wrote this story about ancient Egypt that is really a tale about one thing:

A woman who is silenced. A woman who must find her voice.

Why? Because all women are silenced. We are silenced by our governments first and by our families second and by ourselves third. And by history. There was a time when having a voice got you burned at the stake. So there are generations of silenced women behind many of us.

We simply do not speak up. If all women spoke in chorus, there would be no war and plenty of green energy to go around.

Now, I’m exaggerating on purpose, because as a storyteller, that’s what we do. We paint the world a certain way to invite a hero into it.

And my heroine, Hannah, is a woman who is silenced by the tragedies that happen to her. Rape. Slavery. And so her journey is to find her voice.

And it doesn’t happen to her suddenly. She has to practice speaking up. It’s uncomfortable for her, and she must learn a new language. And she is a singer. She is a woman practicing using her voice throughout the entire book.

And at pivotal points in the story, she finds her voice and uses it and the curtains part and she sees her own power. And her power grows the more she uses her voice.

This is not just one woman seeing her own power. This is the woman inside each of us seeing her own power. This is the woman inside of men and women seeing her own power. The Great Woman. The archetype of the nurturer brought back to life to save us from the brink of destruction.

You can read this novel as a romp. And it is. It’s sexy and wild and everyone says how they stay up late reading and they are late for work and miss their train stops. And that’s great for my ego, and hopefully it will help send my son to college one day. But it isn’t what’s really important to the soul of the story.

See, if you really study the intention in the book, and you meet the Hannah inside yourself, you will find a suffragist. You will find an Alice Paul. You will find a Gloria Steinem. You will meet the woman who wants to risk everything to heal the dragon.

And she’s saying, “Hey, what’s the big idea? Haven’t we slain the dragon enough? Shouldn’t we be making sure it has enough to eat so there are baby dragons in the future?”

Because every human should be asking these questions now for the dragons. For the lions. For the elephants and the whales. For the polar bears. For the most beautiful species that are all facing extinction.

I for one wouldn’t know how to explain to my son that I stood by silent while the last lion was killed by poachers. Could you?

And so this novel is really about that. It’s about freeing the voice in us that has been made a slave to the establishment. It’s about defending our bodies and the body of the Earth. It’s about defending justice even when that stance could make you an outcast or get you killed.

Women fight. My women fight. The woman inside each of us must speak up and fight for what matters to her. If all women chose just one cause, the world would change in a decade.

So when you read the novel, know that this is a book that is meant to help you ask what is worth fighting for in your life, so you will go out and risk everything for that.


One lucky person will have the opportunity to win their own copy of Written in the Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt. Simply leave a comment below by midnight on Tuesday, May 22, 2012. Winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday, May 23, 2012. Giveaway open to all! US residents have the option of a paperback or eBook, entrants from other countries are eligible for an eBook. Good luck!

Christine’s Review of Written in the Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt – Blog Tour

I love ancient Egypt. I’m sorry, that sentence doesn’t accurately describe my feelings towards the subject. If I were standing in the same room with you, I would yell “I LOVE ANCIENT EGYPT THIS MUCH!” and spread my arms as wide as they could possibly stretch, just to give you a tiny taste of my enduring love. (I believe it can be traced back to this Sesame Street clip) So I was really excited when I first read the premise of Written in the Ashes, as it is set in Alexandria after the fall of the Roman Empire.

The book revolves around Hannah, a young Jewish shepherdess, who is kidnapped, sold into slavery and finds herself working in the house of a renowned wine maker and secret alchemist. When Hannah’s talent as a singer is discovered, she quickly lands in the Great Library, learning the ways of the bard. Hannah interacts with a few historic figures and groups of the era throughout the story, and finds herself on a quest to find an ancient tablet that could protect the Pagan and Jewish communities against the radical Christians who have taken over the city.

I’m a big fan of historical fiction that tries to fill in missing pieces of history, which is what K. Hollan Van Zandt does in Written in the Ashes. I also really love when a bit of fantasy or supernatural elements are part of the plot. Part of what intrigues me about ancient Egyptians is their spirituality and belief in an afterlife. I don’t want to give anything away, but I really enjoyed the storyline of Julian the monk and the twists Hannah’s quest took. I honestly didn’t think the author would go down that road, so-to-speak.

While I think the book contained all the fundamentals of a great and engaging story, as a reader I felt like I was held an arm’s length away from the characters and heart of the story. I couldn’t connect to Hannah or any of the other characters in the novel. There was also a point in the book where the story jumped ahead three years after a crucial plot point, which is fine, except the characters seemed to pick up everything right back up where they were a few pages ago. “Oh hey, that really important thing that happened three years ago? I just NOW thought of something relevant to that moment that will probably change everything. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before now!” Perhaps it was just me, but it felt a bit jarring.

Aside from those small quibbles, I thought the story was interesting and I really enjoyed the small supernatural elements woven into the novel. The writing and the descriptions are lovely; I just found it a bit cold. I never warmed up and fell in love with the book like I wanted and thought I would. It could be I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to read this book when I did, which is perhaps why I didn’t connect with it as much as other readers. If you like historical fiction (and Egypt!), I would give it a read and see what you think. In fact, come back tomorrow for a guest post from the author and a chance to win your own copy of Written in the Ashes!

3 out of 5 stars

Written in the Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt
Balboa Press (2011)
eBook: 401 Pages
ISBN: 9781452535142

Thanks to Virtual Author Book Tours for my review copy! If you want to read the other tour posts, you can find all the links here. You can also join the discussion and ask the author questions here on Goodreads.

Christine’s Review of Purity by Jackson Pearce

Hello dear readers!  In case you missed the announcement on Twitter (you follow Kim on Twitter, right? RIGHT?!), I’m Christine—the newest staff member here at Reflections of a Book Addict.  And this is my first review!  I know, I’m a bit nervous about this too.

Now that we got that awkward bit out of the way, onward to Purity!

Purity by Jackson PearceI knew of Jackson Pearce’s books, but I didn’t really pay attention to them until I heard her talk on a panel at the Austin Teen Book Fest last year. During the Q&A session, I leaned over to one of the teens I had dragged to the event (they were my cover, so-to-speak) and whispered, “I think I have a girl crush on Jackson Pearce.” “Me too! I want to read her books.” “Do you think we should ask her out for tacos?” “Mmmm, probably not.” “Fine. I guess I’ll just read her books.” Shortly thereafter I quickly devoured her first two books, As You Wish and Sister’s Red, and became an instant fan of hers.

I was intrigued when I first heard the premise of Purity: A girl tries to lose her virginity before attending The Princess Ball with her father, where she will take a vow to live a life of purity. You see in high school, I attended a church that had a yearly “True Love Waits” weekend seminar. It was basically a day to show slides of STDs and talk about abstinence and saving sex for marriage (I never went, but this is what my friends told me). On Sunday during the church service, there was a commitment ceremony between the teens and parents who attended. The teenagers would promise to guard their heart and save sex for marriage and the parents would promise to support their kids in whatever way they could. Most of the parents would give their kids a “True Love Waits” ring which they were supposed to wear until they swapped it for an engagement ring or until their wedding day, when they would give the ring to their spouse or something. Half of the teens I knew lost their ring within the first few months and then we would make jokes like, “Matt lost his True Love Waits ring! Guess this means you can go have sex now!” We were very mature teenagers.

While I am very familiar with the “True Love Waits” culture, I will say the idea of having a ball where girls wear white dresses and vow their purity to their fathers is a bit, uh, out there even for me. This was the main reason I wanted to read the book. I wanted to see how Jackson Pearce handled the idea of purity and people who believe in abstinence until marriage.

The thing is, that really isn’t what this book is about.

Yes, the whole plot of the novel revolves around 16-year-old Shelby’s quest to lose her v-card before the Princess Ball in five weeks (which is a bit drastic, Shelby) with the help of her two best friends, Jonas and Ruby. Yes, one of her best friends is obviously in love with her.  And yes, the girls who are attending the Princess Ball are essentially caricatures of girls I knew in high school: the ones who take the vow seriously, the ones who obviously don’t care, and the ones who are pretending to care.

Really, this is a story about a girl who made three promises to her dying mother.

1. Love and listen to your father.
2. Love as much as possible.
3. Live without restraint.

Shelby lives her life by these three rules, although she does so perhaps a bit too legalistically. But that’s the thing with teenagers, they often want everything to be black or white because it’s a hell of a lot easier to understand life when it’s not grey. The ideas and questions raised in the book were deeper than I expected, as Shelby learns to reconcile the three promises and what they really mean when it comes to living her life.

While many of the choices Shelby makes in the book are a bit frustrating, they were choices a real teen would make. There were moments in the book I wanted to yell “Just go talk to your dad! Listen to your friends! Really tell him what you think about this stupid ball!”  But that is 27-year-old Christine talking. 16-year-old Christine would have probably done the same thing Shelby does: just go along with whatever to make her dad happy.

What I appreciated about this book was the frank and simple way sex and God were discussed. Those are two very polarizing topics, and I applaud Jackson Pearce for tackling both in the same book. I really liked that the story did not go exactly like I thought it would. Life is awkward and messy, people can have faith and doubt at the same. It was refreshing to read a “real life” YA book that wasn’t wrapped up neatly and tied with a bow in the end.

I would definitely recommend this book to an older teen. It’s a good book with a healthy sense of humor to help them start thinking about their own lives, and question why they are making the choices they are and who they are doing it for—themselves or just to please an adult?

4 out of 5 Stars

Purity by Jackson Pearce
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2012)
Hardcover: 224 pages
ISBN: 9780316182461