Archive for February, 2014

tyrants daughterDisclosure: I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley.

I had mixed emotions about this book. It is ambitious, and engaging, and is a very fast read. I think I read it in about an hour and a half, while watching to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. I am not sure that it succeeded in all of it’s ambitions, but I would generally recommend it.

It is a first person narrative from Laila, with very short chapters. I liked the narrator – she was convincing to me. The cast of this book is limited to a few people: Laila, her mother, her brother, the CIA agent, a few classmates, a few other immigrants from home. The country that Laila has fled is an unnamed country in the Middle East. We are obviously meant to think of Iran or Iraq, but the author never identifies the setting of Laila’s country of origin. The action takes place in a relatively short period of time after Laila’s arrival in the U.S.

There was so much going on in the background of this book: the various forms that privilege can take, how one person’s privilege is another person’s cage, misogyny, the impact of religious fundamentalism, growing up in a world where physical safety is just another commodity, available only sometimes and only ever to the wealthy.

Laila is an insightful narrator, but she is not precocious. She is an ethical person, but not a questioning person. Or at least she wasn’t until after her father is assassinated.

I would love to get the rest of Laila’s story. Those of you who read the book will know just what I mean.


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cursed by cupid Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley.

This is really a novella – I think that the amazon page indicates that it is 50 pages long. Short book, short review:

I thought that this was adorable, and laughed out loud several times reading it. The MC, Tilly, has been romantically cursed for 3 years after breaking one of those annoying chain letters. She has had many terrible first dates, some of which are described to us in painful, humiliating, and hilarious detail.

She meets Bryant when she spills chocolate shake all over herself and his place of business. Things rapidly spiral out of control from there. Tilly is likeable, Bryant is handsome and persistent. It is a clean romance, appropriate for anyone who reads romance.

This book is pure, unadulterated cotton candy, seasonally suited to Valentine’s Day. I would absolutely read a full-length novel by Wendy Sparrow.

Thanks, Entangled Publishing. I really enjoyed this one.

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sinful folk

Cross-posted on Booklikes and amazon.

Disclosure: I won a free copy of this book from an author. It was a no-strings attached sort of a thing, and there was no agreement that I would review this book at all as a part of the giveaway. In addition, I was very excited about the release of this book because the author is someone I follow here on Booklikes, so I had read various excerpts from the book before getting my hands on it (digital hands, really) and it looked fantastic.

I was not disappointed.

I’m going to witter on for a bit about myself, to explain what kind of a reader I am. I have read a lot of historical fiction, including the grand dame of English historical fiction, Sharon Kay Penman, and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. Both of these writers primarily write in a period that is quite a bit later than the period chosen by Mr. Hayes for his novel, but they – Penman in particular – are well known for the quality of their research and writing.

I am not tremendously knowledgable about the English Middle Ages and am definitely not reading as a scholar. However, I am pretty picky about obvious errors and I am quite picky about good writing, and I love a great story. Ned Hayes is one of those authors who is the total package.

Sinful Folk was, in a word, wonderful.

Most historical fiction focuses on the nobles not the vassals. This makes sense, as it is undoubtedly much easier to research how the royalty and the powerful members of the church and the wealthy lived. The peasantry are usually there, in the book, as an aside. They serve things, they (if they are male) are the cannon fodder for the foolish wars embarked upon by the powerful, or they (if they are female) are a sexual outlet – sometimes consenting, sometimes not so much – for the men of noble blood that they might encounter. Nonetheless, they are mostly interchangeble. Unnamed, unknown, unimportant.

But, of course, in the Middle Ages, as in any other period, those are the people who do most of the living and loving and hating and dying. This book gives them a voice in Mear, or Miriam. And it is a beautiful voice, utterly convincing.

“In the end, I listen to my fear. It keeps me awake, resounding through the frantic beating in my breast. It is there in the dry terror in my throat, in the pricking of the rats’ nervous feet in the darkness.

Christian has not come home all the night long.”

The book begins with the death of Mear’s son, Christian. He is burned to death in a terrible fire, along with four other boys. The men of the village, including Miriam, because she is living as a man, and a mute one, at that, take a pilgrimage in the dead of winter, seeking justice for their boys. The story is the story of their journey, and the life story of Miriam, who has secrets that are slowly revealed as the journey unfolds, picking up other travellers as they go. It is incredibly dangerous for peasants to be abroad on the road in winter, especially as they travel without the permission of their Lord. This is no light-hearted picaresque tale about villagers on a pleasure trip – the characters face real dangers, real hardship, and experience real terrors and injuries. It is winter, in the midst of a famine, and the world is a harsh and unforgiving place.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

(Poem by Christina Rosetti)

I don’t want to spoil the story, so I will stop here. Ned Hayes has a story-teller’s sense of timing and mystery, and a poet’s grasp of language. He could have been a bard in another time.

Rooks have clustered on either side of the long road. It is as if they line a grand parade route for our passage. Their black feathers are stark as soot against the White Road and the snow. They stab at the ground with their strange bare bills and unfeathered faces.”

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