gimmethatbook

Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Month: April 2015

Goddess by Callista Hunter

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Olivia is a sixteen-year-old Vestal Virgin, a happy devotee of her beloved goddess Vesta in her home nation of Parcae. But when her faith in Vesta is shaken, Olivia illegally experiments with her own divine power, making a discovery that could save her country from war – if she’s brave enough to share it.

After an accidental revelation proves Vesta is fake, Olivia and her fellow Virgins are tempted by a charismatic academy boy, Cassius, to invoke the real gods. Although they risk death if they are discovered, Olivia and her friends test their skills in secret experiments. But their games take an unexpected turn when flighty blonde Lucia reveals surprisingly deadly powers.

Gaius, a brilliant military student, must protect the girls and plan for war against an enemy nation while ignoring his growing attachment to Olivia. As a Vestal Virgin she has taken a holy vow of chastity, and the consequences of breaking it are severe…

 

I received this book from the author in exchange for this honest review.

The plot is fairly simple, with a crisis of faith coming in the early chapters. Apparently the flame of Vesta is encouraged to burn with the addition of lamp oil. This upsets Olivia, and her friends Cassius and Gaius try to soothe her mind. One of the things they do is get her involved in a secret project: invoking the gods (which is illegal for women) to make plants grow taller. Lucia, Olivia’s schoolmate, proves to be a natural, and this sets the course for the girls to help aid the army against invaders. There is family drama, teenage crushes, and lots of chatter between Oliva, Lucia, and Marta, a third classmate who seems to be cranky all of the time.

The writing is wonderfully descriptive, with details like clothing and living arrangements artfully detailed. Conversations between the teenagers sound correct, and Olivia’s crisis of faith is handled well. The only thing I had an issue with, and it may be my own, is manipulating my mindset to believe that these girls could summon up gods like Neptune and Diana to do their bidding. There is plenty of Latin phrases and some animal sacrifices as well, (no gore!) to set the tone, but I did have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that some of the girls could do it and the men could not. There is much talk of “summoning the gods” by the men, but no information on whether it worked every time or not.

The three Vestal Virgins discover more about themselves and their character as their country goes to war and they come under fire for being allowed to develop power and independence. I did like the fact that there were strong female characters that didn’t have their head in the clouds all the time, dreaming about a husband. Heck–these girls are VIRGINS–there’s no  way for them to even GET a husband without being “bought out” of the cult of Vesta; and the price is so high that it almost never happens.

There are a few twists at the end, and I was encouraged to find that the girls weren’t content to put their head back in the sand once the war came to an end. I’d love to read more about Olivia and Lucia. Their friendship grew stronger as the book went on, and by the end, all five characters were tightly bonded. The author could definitely make this a series, bringing some of the lesser characters to the front so we could learn more about them. Perhaps a prequel with a backstory of Olivia and her brother might be in order.

If you are a YA fan that also loves an ancient Roman setting, you will delight in this easy and uplifting read. Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts – Review

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The Blurb on the Jacket:

Andrew Roberts’s Napoleon is the first one-volume biography to take advantage of the recent publication of Napoleon’s thirty-three thousand letters, which radically transform our understanding of his character and motivation. At last we see him as he was: protean multitasker, decisive, surprisingly willing to forgive his enemies and his errant wife Josephine. Like Churchill, he understood the strategic importance of telling his own story, and his memoirs, dictated from exile on St. Helena, became the single bestselling book of the nineteenth century.

 

Before encountering this book, I had not read any other biography of Napoleon. I had exposed myself to plenty of modern European history, and I felt like I know the “gist” of Napoleon’s life, but I hadn’t ever delved deeply into the man himself. When I approached this massive tome, I worried that my less-that-rigorous foreknowledge might render Napoleon, if not inaccessible, at least a chore.

This was not the case.

Rarely have I ever had the pleasure of reading a portrait of an important man or woman that was simultaneously as immersive and as insightful as Roberts’ Napoleon. Biographers who struggle to find a balance between giving their subjects personality and keeping their writing educationally valuable should take note. It often seems that this balance is a zero-sum game. Any account vastly endowed with one put pay for its endowment with the other. Roberts cheats this system by letting his primary sources stand front-and-center. Napoleon (the man, not the book) had enough moxie and humor of his own to buoy the tone of this book from dust jacket to dust jacket.

That sounds like I’m giving the credit to Monsieur Bonaparte rather than the author, doesn’t it? This is not my intention. All of the credit belongs to Mr. Roberts for pulling off this feat. Napoleon’s original words could not have filled this book. If they could, he wouldn’t have had time to govern. The majority of the mass of this massive pack of pulp owes its existence to Roberts’ careful work of contextualization. The author takes extraordinary care to include the reader in a conversation about the external factors weighing in on the scenarios he describes.

My most common frustration when reading a biography is it is not entirely clear why some important action X was taken rather than Y. Usually, a simple explanation would do. No such frustration could find a stable home in my consciousness while I read this book. Simple explanations regularly precede the description of the actions taken here, and these descriptions are regularly followed by exhaustive investigations into the minutia revolving the decisions made. It is not boring at all. It sucks you in. It makes you feel like you can appreciate the situations as acutely as the people involved. If you read biographies because you want to better understand people and the times you choose to read about, then this sense that you might as well have been there should be exactly what you’re searching for. If not, then stop searching for whatever you’re searching for, and pick up this book. If I didn’t make that clear enough, let me make this very clear.

If you think that it is within the realm of possibility that the life and times of Napoleon Bonaparte could appeal to you as subject matter, then you need to get a copy of Andrew Robert’s book into your possession, and swallow it like a python swallows an alligator. Unhinge your brain’s jaw and shove this hunk of gold down its distended gullet before you consider taking care of less important matters… like hygiene… and nutrition.

Back Behind Enemy Lines by Chris Bridge PLUS GIVEAWAY

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It is 1944 and Anna is parachuted into Normandy as a special agent working with Resistance Groups, spying on the Germans and wiring the information back to the Special Operations Executive, escaping capture and the inevitable torture that would follow.

She falls in love with Pierre, another SOE agent but finds he is not what he purports to be. Then there is the little matter of the Gestapo officer who has guessed her secret. Alone, Anna has to make some terrifying decisions to survive and to ensure the impending invasion remains secret.

It is 2006 in England, where her husband has died and Anna lives alone. Her children are spying on her and plot to put her in a home so that they can sell her house for their own ends. Anna is determined to retain her independence. She falls back on her wartime skills, recruiting Nathan and his girl friend Gemma to help her and becomes close to them as she never was with her own children.

But it is only when she returns to Normandy and confronts the ghosts of her past that she realises how the war had taken its toll on her loveless marriage and her children. She makes the ultimate sacrifice and finally finds the peace and redemption that had evaded her all these years.

 

Many thanks to Publishing Push for offering this book in exchange for this honest review. At the end of the review there’s a link to enter our contest for a FREE ePub version of this book!!

BACK BEHIND ENEMY LINES is two stories in one. The first part of the book follows Anna as she fights in WWII as a spy: her triumphs, her fears, her growth as a person, and ultimately, her tragedies that shape the rest of her life. The wartime details were gritty and captured the sense of despair and hardship throughout France at that time. The story is completely plausible, and paints Anna as a steady and hard working woman, with perhaps too tight a hold on her emotions.  When her situation develops a twist, she has no one to rely upon except herself. I found a good deal of suspense in this part kept me reading, wondering what would happen next.

The second part of the story takes place in 2006; Anna is home and suffering the expected health and mental issues of a 90 year old woman. Her children are hateful, greedy, and loathsome, gathering together to see how quickly they can put her in a home and take her house and money for themselves. Anna, decrepit as she is, digs deep inside herself to regain the mental strength she once possessed and thwart her offspring. Purely by chance she develops a friendship with two teenagers, who help her in her final quest to return to France and put answers to questions that have plagued her all her life.

This part also held suspense for me; I liked elderly Anna much better and felt she was a very sympathetic character. Unfortunately this situation is all too true in today’s world, and people forget that seniors have memories dear to them and were accomplished people in their younger days, they should not be viewed as a burden or problem. It was heartening to see how Anna grew interested in life again, and the reader will feel her getting stronger as the book progresses. Each scene with one of the horrid children is appropriately enraging–there was plenty of times I wanted to smack each one of the ingrates over and over again.

Finally Anna is able to lay down the burden she has been carrying for years as she shares her memories with Nathan and Gemma. Their dialogue is realistic, and the author does a great job of contrasting the elderly Anna and youthful Gemma, by accurate physical descriptions and also by both characters’ internal monologues. The ending is thought provoking, wistful, and triumphant at turns. There could have been many ways the story would come to a close, and Bridge brings everything together in a satisfying and real way. Anna is strong and maintains her sense of self throughout, right up to the ending, which will not be obvious until the book is almost over.  I spent some time thinking about Anna and her motivations; the author has created a masterpiece with this fictitious woman who will warm your heart and make you think about how your own life will be when you get old. BACK BEHIND ENEMY LINES is one of the most unique books I’ve read this year so far. I look forward to more by Chris Bridge.

Want your own copy? Click here.

 

 

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Pilgrim by Terrence Atwood

 

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An exploratory probe is launched into space on a mission to investigate the possibility of extraterrestrial life. However, a cabal of military forces have covertly converted the probe into a weapon of mass destruction – arming it with a nuclear payload.
When the launch of the craft, code named PILGRIM,  goes awry, the probe crashes back on Earth and begins carrying out its mission – eradicating all life. It’s up to Catherine Tennison, an intrepid NASA scientist, and Army Colonel Walt Macken to capture and disarm the probe before it brings about Armageddon.

 

Thanks to author Terrence Atwood for providing this review copy.

Weighing in at a quick 146 pages, this is a quick and easy read. The plot is promising, and the tension starts fairly quickly, when there is a failure during the launch.  There is back stabbing, politics, and a murderous probe named PILGRIM, that immediately starts performing its mission as planned–except it didn’t land on the new planet as expected. PILGRIM landed back on Earth, and cannot be stopped.

There are portions of awkward dialogue plus some bad punctuation (most glaring is the use of capital letters and exclamation points to force home the point that this is WILD STUFF HAPPENING HERE!!). I also had to suspend my beliefs for a bit at times, that the military would acquiese to the demands of a NASA scientist (character Catherine Tennison).  There are also a few too many narrow escapes by Tennison and her companion Colonel Walt Macken, to make things ring true.

However, I did enjoy the science and implications of the story itself, even if the writing could have been a little smoother. The images of the rogue probe rampaging across bucolic areas were done well, and the juxtaposition of nature and technology was appropriately jarring. The possibility of the military doing something like this isn’t that far fetched, and the conspiracy theorists would love this book. I’m sure.

I think the plot would make a good science fiction film. As I was reading, I could picture the action in my head. That alone means Atwood did his job: making the reader visualize and become one with the story.

The author had some good ideas–with a little more character development and better editing, PILGRIM would be a 5 star read. I’ll give it 3 and a half. Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

Binary Star by Sarah Gerard

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From the publisher:

The language of the stars is the language of the body. Like a star, the anorexic burns fuel that isn’t replenished; she is held together by her own gravity.
With luminous, lyrical prose, Binary Star is an impassioned account of a young woman struggling with anorexia and her long-distance, alcoholic boyfriend. On a road trip circumnavigating the United States, they stumble into a book on veganarchism, and believe they’ve found a direction.

Not every book needs to be a masterpiece. If it were so, then there wouldn’t be any pleasure in discovering uncommonly good books. For the most part, it is good enough for a book to merely know what it has set out to do, and to accomplish whatever that is in a capable manner.

 

Binary Star traces the codependent relationship of an anorexic astrophysics teacher and her alcoholic boyfriend. I say “traces” rather than “follows” because the reader is never allowed to deduce of him or herself what the subtext is. The outlines of every contour of every personality is writ in bold as characters’ outlines are in cartoons. It’s all tell and no show. This deficit is buried underneath layers of poetic prose and obfuscated by astrophysical metaphors that reveal the author’s imperfect understanding of astrophysics. Strip away all of the nonsense, and you would be left with a compelling 40- or 50-page short story. Instead, we have 40 pages of poetry followed by about 120 pages of prose-poetry soup reminiscent of the drunken meandering of Stephen Daedalus in Ulysses without the benefit of James Joyce’s genius.

 

This book, I presume, had the intention of putting a human face on the struggle of anorexia as it told its tale. However, Binary Star fails to facilitate a bond between the reader and the main character because, telling all and showing little, the book leaves the reader little room to engage her in the way that humans engage each other. We humans come to know each other by startling each other, revealing the mystery of our personalities one or several pieces at a time. There is no way for me to learn about you in a way that will get me emotionally involved if you present your life to me as a series of facts. The layers of poetry and metaphor do not change the fact that Gerard presents her characters to her readers as collections of facts rather than as dynamic, startling individuals.

 

The final wound on this novel is that the plot, being the strongest part of the tale, has so much difficulty finding its way out from under the heavy coats of language that it takes a back seat to the characters themselves, about who I seemed to know everything but feel nothing.

 

Gerard’s potential as an author is extraordinary, but I believe that little more than the fact of that potential is on display in this effort. Although I had few positive remarks to offer about Binary Star, I will await the author’s next effort.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

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