Monday, August 25, 2014

The Butterfly and the Violin (Hidden Masterpiece)

Title: The Butterfly and the Violin

Series: Hidden Masterpiece (Book #1)

Year: 2014

Author: Kristy Cambron

Summary: And then came war . . .

"Today." Sera James spends most of her time arranging auctions for the art world's elite clientele. When her search to uncover an original portrait of an unknown Holocaust victim leads her to William Hanover III, they learn that this painting is much more than it seems.

"Vienna, 1942." Adele Von Bron has always known what was expected of her. As a prodigy of Vienna's vast musical heritage, this concert violinist intends to carry on her family's tradition and play with the Vienna Philharmonic. But when the Nazis learn that she helped smuggle Jews out of the city, Adele is taken from her promising future and thrust into the horrifying world of Auschwitz.

The veil of innocence is lifted to expose a shuddering presence of evil, and Adele realizes that her God-given gift is her only advantage; she must play. Becoming a member of the Women's Orchestra of Auschwitz, she fights for survival. Adele's barbed-wire walls begin to kill her hope as the months drag into nearly two years in the camp. With surprising courage against the backdrop of murder and despair, Adele finally confronts a question that has been tugging at her heart: Even in the midst of evil, can she find hope in worshipping God with her gift?

As Sera and William learn more about the subject of the mysterious portrait--Adele--they are reminded that whatever horrors one might face, God's faithfulness never falters.
(from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Sera James
~ Adele Von Bron
~ William Hanover 

Review: Whew! Trying to arrange my thoughts about this book is like trying to catch bullets in an M&M bag. How that metaphor is supposed to make sense, I don't know, but that's kinda how I feel about this story.

Right off the bat, we're introduced to Sera James, an art gallery owner in Manhattan, and her quest to find a lost painting. Her assistant, Penny, picks up some information about an exact copy of the painting owned by a family in California, and so Sera gets an appointment, buys some tickets, and arrives in the sunny state prepared to strike a deal. However, there's a lot more going on with the Hanover family than is originally said, and although finding the painting is her top priority, she's not certain whether or not she can see the head of the Hanovers, a young man named William, to be friend or foe. Trusting men is something that does not come easily for Sera, and her rocky past is proof of that.

The book follows a few chapters at a time on Sera's story, and then drastically switches over to all things Austria, music, Nazi, and Holocaust. Adele Von Bron is Austria's Sweetheart, an accomplished violinist with a heart that's as big for music as it is for helping others. She is secretly in love with a fellow musician, the dashing cellist, yet she knows her parents would never approve the union. When a rescue mission to smuggle Jews out from under the eyes of Hitler goes wrong, Adele finds herself ripped from everything she loves and sent to a concentration camp where her only means of survival is her violin. Scared and bewildered, she joins an orchestra whose purpose is to play for the workers at the camp, workers who labor without mercy from day to day and then are sent to the gas chambers when they prove worthless. Adele hates her job, but what can she do? To make herself visible, to stand against what is expected, would mean swift and certain death.

The flare of history in this book was amazing. True, this is the Holocaust we're talking about, so don't expect some gentle this-and-that of what happened. The author gives us a realistic impression of what the Jews and enemies of the Nazis really endured while in the concentration camps. I was relieved that there were no gruesome spectacles, yet the descriptions were enough to portray the truth of the horror. WWII era history has always fascinated me, so to read something like this, something that revealed what really happened, was riveting. 

And the music! I wish I could have heard Adele play! Even when she was playing a concert for the people she hated, she still kept her love of the song high, to bring hope to those who had none. Yes, I'm a musician, so reading the music passages were probably my favorite.

Advisory: Obviously, violence. As I said before, nothing is overly graphic, but this book does contain some description of a horrible time in history. The Holocaust is not something to take lightly. 

 One of the things that put this book down in my opinion was the romance. Yeah... I'm starting to get to the point where historical fiction is ehh simply because the author wants to include a gushy love angle. The romance between Adele and Vladimir I thought sweet, for he was practically her hero, and he wanted to protect her above all else. They did exchange a kiss, but I don't recall much other mush between them. The romance the sprouted between Sera and William was another thing entirely. Sera was a moody heroine, content to relive the pain of the past at the cost of damaging the future. And as William was a California dude, you've got the whole gorgeous-eyes-and-flawless-complexion thing going on. Definitely not my cup of tea. They were without doubt more touchy-feely than Adele and Vladimir. 

For other thoughts... I do recall Adele had a flirtatious cousin, with whom she visited a Paris night club. And I think that might have been just about it.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Click here here to buy The Butterfly and the Violin on Amazon!

*Please note: I received a free copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review.*

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Remembering the Alamo

Title: Remembering the Alamo

Series: None

Year: 2014

Author: Alicia A. Willis

Summary: When Pastor Mark Siegler takes his youth group on a midsummer vacation to San Antonio, he anticipates teaching them about honor and sacrifice at the Alamo. But arrival at the historic landmark brings cutting disillusionment. A troubled teen is determined to make things difficult - and spread his embitterment to the rest of the group.

Mark has two choices: give up or try again. Midst his own discouragement, he decides to give them the story behind the legendary Alamo. And his perseverance results in the unforgettable.

The sweeping events of the Alamo comes to life through the eyes of an 1800's wheelwright named Silas Edwards. As his tale unfolds, his decision becomes a difficult one. Is defending the Alamo so important? Or are the principles behind opposing General Santa Anna worth sacrificing everything for?

Join Private Silas Edwards, David Crockett, William Travis, and Mark's youth group to discover the gripping events behind America's battlecry: "Remember the Alamo!"
(from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Mark Siegler
~ Silas Edwards
~ Wes

Review: In truth, this review should have be written months ago when Alicia first sent me a review copy of Remembering the Alamo when I won it in a giveaway. I've always been interested in Texas history and the Alamo in particular though, I confess, that I am numbered among the Disney-romanticized-version of fans. To read about the Alamo set in this light, the light that truly showed what happened there (albeit slightly fictionalized with its main character) was amazing. You can really tell that the author did her research, and did it well.

Mark is a young pastor taking a group of boys on a trip through San Antonio. Most of the boys are eager to see the famous Alamo and examine the collection of Bowie knives housed there, but not one realizes the truth of the courage, honor, and liberty behind what that old mission stands for. Mark loves the history behind it, and when opportunity presents itself, he shares the story of the Alamo like the boys have never heard it before. The first half of the book is mostly about Mark and the boys as they enjoy their trip. One of the boys, Dillian is a troubled youth, and Mark wonders how he might ever get through to him. It's about halfway in the novella that Mark sits his group down and tells them the story, at which point the POV switches to Silas Edwards, a fictionalized defender of the Alamo. The plot was easy to follow, yet gripping at the same time. 

Silas enjoys his life as a wheelwright. He's got his father, his sister, and an apprentice to keep him busy. It's not until his best friend, the Irishman Wes, starts talking about Texas and the Mexican dictator that Silas's thoughts go beyond the woods of Tennessee. Then Davy Crockett, the great legend, shows up looking for volunteers to defend Texas, and Wes encourages Silas to join alongside of him. It is only after much prayer that Silas follows the volunteers west under Crockett. His convictions bring the story to a personal level, where it's easy to see the defenders of the Alamo as real people who really lived, not just some glorified heroes portrayed in fiction. They were real. The Alamo is real. The battles and deaths really happened. 

In words, I don't think I could describe how much I loved this story. The themes were powerful, and the style brilliant. I almost felt that I was at the Alamo myself, brandishing a muzzleloader alongside Davy Crockett and Silas Edwards. I'm not particularly fond of when a writer takes a historical event and then twists it to meet their own purposes, yet this was completely straight-forward. Alicia didn't gloss over the gruesome facts, nor did she embellish where embellishment was not required. All I can say is "Well done." This story deserves all the five stars it can get.

Advisory: There are some descriptions of the battles fought at the Alamo, yet I didn't think it overly graphic. For the tone of the novella, I thought the author described it wonderfully. But for those who are more squeamish, this story does contain guns and blood and the like.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Click here to buy Remembering the Alamo on Amazon!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Coralina (The Nine Princesses Novellas)

Title: Coralina

Series: The Nine Princesses Novellas

Year: 2012

Author: Anita Valle

Summary: Coralina Corissa, known as “Coco” to her eight sisters, is the prettiest princess of a hundred kingdoms. And she knows it. Her beauty has always given her anything she wanted... and any man she wanted.

Runa Realm is facing a new threat. Strange bandits, disguised as nobles, are attacking beautiful women to steal their hair. Coralina isn’t concerned. Until Prince Luxley, her favorite (but not only) lover, gets clobbered by a peasant called Gord, who mistakenly assumed the prince was a bandit.
Outraged, Coralina plans to punish the peasant by deliberately breaking his heart. But Gord is nearly blind. For the first time ever, Coralina must rely on more than her looks to ensnare a man. But the harder she flirts, the more Gord seems to hate her. And the more her own heart (and hair) becomes endangered. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Princess Coralina
~ Princess Maelyn
~ Princess Jaedis
~ Princess Heidel
~ Kerrick
~ Gord
~ Prince Luxley
~ Willow

Review: Another short, but sweet, tale about the nine orphans adopted into the royal family. Coralina is the second eldest and the most beautiful of all nine. And she knows it. Her beauty, her old nurse once told her, would be a curse, yet as she grows up Coralina can see only the benefits she can gain from her features. Her beauty can get her anything she wants, and she's not used to being denied. Of course, all of that changes when she decides to seek revenge on a man that's nearly blind.

Coralina is your typical princess, beautiful, sassy, and completely full of herself. Although I didn't enjoy her story as much as I did Maelyn's (for some odd - very odd - reason, I related more to the bookworm princess than the snotty princess), Anita Valle did a wonderful job in creating something entirely new, yet so familiar. Coralina matched up perfectly to the end of Maelyn and left you wanting more, as the end, although strangely satisfying, is pretty unresolved. I cannot wait to read the third book in the series (Heidel) and find out more about what happens to these nine princesses! 

One thing that greatly interested me was the fact that, while this novella seemed to want to follow the standard, cliche story of a spoiled princess, Anita Valle did anything but. There were plenty of unexpected twists and turns, so that the end was far from what I first imagined it to be. All in all, a delightful read.

Advisory: Coralina's favorite pastime is flirting, and she uses her beauty, figure, features, and words as much as she can to entice a man. Her constant flirting got on my nerves, and she also had a disagreeable fondness for kisses. While nothing is overly described, it was still a little on the awkward side for me. There is also a bit of fantasy action, but nothing graphic.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Related reviews: Maelyn (The Nine Princesses Novellas)

Click here to buy Coralina on Amazon!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Prelude for a Lord

Title: Prelude for a Lord

Series: None

Year: 2014

Author: Camille Elliot

Summary: It is their music that heals them, but it may also drive them apart.

Lady Alethea is living in Bath, England, with her aunt and waiting for her 30th birthday in order to claim her inheritance so she can pursue her passion for music. She is alarmed to learn that someone is trying to steal her violin, which was left to her by an Italian widow who was like a mother to her. She is forced to ask for help from Lord Dommick, who is known for his expertise in music and his knowledge of violins.

Traumatized by his time spent fighting the French on the Peninsula, Lord Dommick is desperate to dispel the rumors of his madness for the sake of his sister, who will be coming out in London in the spring.

Alethea and Dommick's families are threatened when their plan to discover the would-be thief is realized. Dommick proposes that Alethea and her family come stay at his country house with his family to better protect them all.

Alethea has come to trust and love Dommick, but he is so preoccupied with his own demons that he pays no attention. It's not until Alethea is kidnapped that Dommick is forced to stare down his struggles and realize that Alethea loves him completely. But will he find her in time to confess his feelings, and will they realize who is behind the threats? A one-of-a-kind violin has put them all in danger. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Lady Alethea Sutherton 
~ Bayard Terralton, Baron/Lord Dommick

Review: Other than Jane Austen's famous novels, I don't think I've read much Regency fiction. Come to think of it, this may be my first outside of classics. I usually actively avoid novels labeled "romance" just because they tend to be cliche and really not my preference, but when I saw this one was Regency with music, I thought I'd give it a go.

And as far as the music aspect is concerned, I liked it. Alethea is described as a young woman who is unlike most of the young women of England. She loves her half-sister, Lucy, who happens to be a lady's maid, and she thrives on music - especially the violin, an instrument society says is strictly for men. Her brother is after her to get married for his own monetary purposes, yet Alethea finds refuge for a while with a rather commanding aunt. She takes charge of a young ward of her aunt's, Margaret, and does what she can to enjoy music and keep away from men as all previous interaction with them has proven awful on her part. 

But that's before someone offers to buy her violin from her... and then later someone attempts to steal it... and then even later someone attempts to kidnap her. Alethea is forced to accept the help of a certain Lord Dommick, a well-known musician who believes, along with society, that women shouldn't play the violin. I enjoyed reading their spats near the beginning of the story, yet I thought their banter kinda flattened toward the middle and end. They were just a little too moody for my taste.

The beginning of the story was choppy, and it took me a while to get into it. Margaret was my favorite character, and I was disappointed that she wasn't more of a central character. From trying to find Alethea's "treasure" to fighting with the rector's daughters, she was full of fun and never once boring. Lord Ian, too, was incorrigible and fun to read. He had a brother relationship with Dommick/Bayard that I really liked, and he was very protective of Dommick's sister, Clare. [Highlight for spoilers] In my personal opinion, I would have preferred to see a romance pop up between Ian and Clare rather than having to read the one between Dommick and Alethea. But *sigh* nothing ever came of it. Even Aunt Ebena improved upon further reading. She reminded me of the snobby aunt from Rebecca of Sunnybrooke Farm, and just with all snobby aunts, she becomes a kindred spirit. Although I like that, it's becoming just a tick cliche. Let's have some snobby uncles pervading literature now, shall we?

I loved the passages with the music! As a musician, I can relate, and the experience of being caught up in a song is just as amazing as the author described here. However, I was a little irritated in one scene where Alethea played the harpsichord for an evening gathering and conducted a serious conversation with several people while she played -- from memory -- several Bach selections. She would get lost in her violin music to the point of not knowing who was around her, yet when she played the harpsichord, she was so indifferent to it that she could play and focus rather on a conversation leading away from the music? This is a pet peeve of mine, and I hope you don't mind the musician's rant, but when I play the piano, I PLAY the piano. If you love music as Alethea appears to, you don't sacrifice the song in order to talk. There's no way to keep the music's intensity up if you're holding chit chat on the side. 

Advisory: Obviously, romance. *shakes head* I knew there were reasons I stayed away from romance novels. Definitely not my favorite thing to review, but let's see if I can give it a go. [Highlight for spoilers] In one scene, a young man attempts to kiss Clare, leading to his abrupt dismissal from the house and giving a bad reputation to his name. However, later on, Dommick kisses Alethea twice and yet no one makes a big deal about it. Really? If we're going to support a theme, might as well support it throughout the entire book instead of just when the author prefers. I found that annoying. [Highlight for spoilers] Dommick and Alethea marry in the course of the novel, a marriage of convenience to protect Alethea from marrying the horrid Mr. Kinnier. As neither was ready to admit that they loved the other right away, their relationship was awkward, and I didn't like some of what was implied involving that. The book would have been a lot better off without mentioning those few things. Other than that, a few men flirt and make advances upon ladies of their choice, some not so nice. For all of that, I'd definitely recommend this book for mature readers, even for readers over 15 or 16 years of age.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

*Please note: I received a free copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review.*

This book will be released on August 5th.
Click here to see Prelude for a Lord on Amazon!

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Prior Quest (The Bookania Short Stories)

Title: The Prior Quest

Series: The Bookania Short Stories (#1)

Year: 2012

Author: Kendra E. Ardnek

Summary: How far will a man go to repay a debt made in his youth? Push au Kim's life was spared by an enemy soldier, and he vowed to someday repay the man. When he finally finds him again, he finds that he has just died, leaving behind three sons.

Well, on to plan B.
(from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Boy
~ Push au Kim

Review: This reads just like a fairy tale! For some odd reason, my brain wants to register it as a fairy tale retelling, but I can't be sure. *adjusts librarian glasses* Well, whether it is or not, it's still wonderful. I don't think I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed some of Kendra's other short stories, but I would still recommend it to other readers.

Once upon a time, there was a miller-turned-soldier who had but one son -- his pride and joy. While in the war, he caught a young enemy who pleaded to be let go as he, also, was his father's only son. He also promised to repay the miller-turned-soldier for this kind deed. Moved with compassion, the miller-turned-soldier let him go. The war ended, peace was restored, and the miller-turned-soldier went home to find he had another son! Then he had a third some time later just for good measure. However, the wife died before telling anyone the last son's name, so instead of renaming him, they just called him "Boy."

And that's where it starts. Years later, when the miller is dead, Push au Kim (the young enemy) returns to pay his debt and insists on helping one of the sons since he cannot help the father. The older two sons want nothing to do with this odd foreigner, so naturally, in the normal fairy tale style, it's the third and youngest who gets chosen. With Boy at his side, Push is determined to repay that debt to the umpteenth degree... and Boy is quite astonished at how it all plays out.

Advisory: Push does some, ah, less than nice actions to gain wealth and status for his young master (i.e. dumping people in ovens, lying) which I would not recommend for anyone to copy, but everything is in a very decidedly fairy tale atmosphere.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Click here to buy The Prior Quest on Amazon!