The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor

A voyage across the ocean becomes the odyssey of a lifetime for a young Irish woman. . . .

Ireland, 1912 . . .

Fourteen members of a small village set sail on RMS Titanic, hoping to find a better life in America. For seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy, the journey is bittersweet. Though her future lies in an unknown new place, her heart remains in Ireland with Séamus, the sweetheart she left behind. When disaster strikes, Maggie is one of the few passengers in steerage to survive. Waking up alone in a New York hospital, she vows never to speak of the terror and panic of that fateful night again.

Chicago, 1982 . . .

Adrift after the death of her father, Grace Butler struggles to decide what comes next. When her great-grandmother Maggie shares the painful secret about the Titanic that she’s harbored for almost a lifetime, the revelation gives Grace new direction—and leads both her and Maggie to unexpected reunions with those they thought lost long ago. – Goodreads

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with the Titanic and the Oregon Trail. No clue why. This was on sale, so I snagged it.

Did you read those Dear America books as a kid? I did. I loved them and it was my first venture into historical fiction. Of course, I only liked the historical events I was interested in, but still. This book kind of made me nostalgic for those.

Let me get my least favorite parts out of the way – way too many damn points of view. I could not care less about Grace Butler, who seemed to only serve as a glimpse into Maggie’s future. And the random other characters on the ship (I honestly can’t remember their names) who fell flat for me. It felt like random fluff with no actual substance.

Other than the fluffy additional points-of-view, I enjoyed the book. It was a dramatic view into what the events aboard the Titanic may have looked and felt like for a young woman. There was a little bit of a love story woven in (though nothing crazy) and the story moved at a good pace.

Other than that, I don’t have too much to say about this book — I didn’t *not* like it, but I wasn’t in love with it, either. 3/5 on Goodreads.

The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora by Stephanie Thornton

15808671Where Theodora went, trouble followed…

In sixth-century Constantinople, one woman, Theodora, defied every convention and all the odds and rose from common theater tart to empress of a great kingdom, the most powerful woman the Roman Empire would ever know. The woman whose image was later immortalized in glittering mosaic was a scrappy, clever, conniving, flesh-and-blood woman full of sensuality and spirit whose real story is as surprising as any ever told….

After her father dies suddenly, Theodora and her sisters face starvation and a life on the streets. Determined to survive, Theodora makes a living any way she can—first on her back with every man who will have her, then on the stage in a scandalous dramatization of her own invention. When her daring performance grants her a backdoor entry into the halls of power, she seizes the chance to win a wealthy protector—only to face heartbreak and betrayal.

Ever resilient, Theodora rises above such trials and, by a twist of fate, meets her most passionate admirer yet: the emperor’s nephew. She thrives as his confidant and courtesan, but many challenges lie ahead. For one day this man will hand her a crown. And all the empire will wonder—is she bold enough, shrewd enough, and strong enough to keep it? – Goodreads

I ate this up in an all-consuming-couldn’t-put-it-down kind of way. I was on vacation when I read this, so I was able to binge read the hell out of it while the graveshift boyfriend slept until noon.

To put it simply, Theodora’s life kind of sucks for, well, most of her life. The suffering was almost too much (rape, prostitution, poverty, abuse, etc.) — but her resiliency and strength was what kept me reading. Rather than accepting her fate, she took matters into her own hands and made it work.

Thornton navigates these topics expertly and in a non-exploitative manner — these events are what shaped this woman and drove her to take her future into her own hands, to refuse to be a pawn.

The book is in first-person through Theodora’s eyes — this gives the reader a firsthand account of her emotions, thought process and world. She is a multi-dimensional character, and I came to really care about her and her future by the end of the book. I hurt when she hurt. I was upset when she was upset.

If you’re looking for a fabulous historical read on a woman who rose from the bottom — this is it. It’s powerful, it’s well written. I rated it a 5/5.

Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran

6340471At the dawn of the Roman Empire, when tyranny ruled, a daughter of Egypt and a son of Rome found each other…

Selene’s legendary parents are gone. Her country taken, she has been brought to the city of Rome in chains, with only her twin brother, Alexander, to remind her of home and all she once had.

Living under the watchful eyes of the ruling family, Selene and her brother must quickly learn how to be Roman – and how to be useful to Caesar. She puts her artistry to work, in the hope of staying alive and being allowed to return to Egypt. Before long, however, she is distracted by the young and handsome heir to the empire…

When the elusive ‘Red Eagle’ starts calling for the end of slavery, Selene and Alexander are in grave danger. Will this mysterious figure bring their liberation, or their demise? – Goodreads

I have pretty mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I’m a biased, loyal Michelle Moran reader who adores reading historical fiction about Ancient Egypt.

On the other hand, this one definitely wasn’t my favorite.

One thing I typically love about Moran’s books is the strong sense of connection to the main character. I found that I didn’t really care about Selene that much. Sure, I appreciated the fact that she was smart and cared about her studies, whereas other women were only interested in parties (I identified with Selene a bit there), but that was where it ended. I had a difficult time with believing their emotions when they were sent to Rome and how quickly they bonded with the people there.

Many of the characters fell flat and were obnoxiously predictable. Actually, much of the story was predictable, down to the identity of the Red Eagle, which was a pretty big plotline.

I was also a bit sad at the lack of romance. There was some, but not a lot. Mostly the love interests annoyed me.

It was an okay read — I read it in Mexico and finished it in a day, but I definitely recommend Moran’s other books more. I rated this a 3/5.

 

The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister (& giveaway!)

9781402298684-300This book was captivating. I couldn’t stop thinking about it whenever I had to put it down. In fact, I would have to say it’s my new favorite historical novel.

The story opens with a magic show and a murder. Officer Holt is the one-man police force of a small town, and is on the scene of the horrific scene, where a bloodied man has been stuffed inside one of the magic show props. Illusionist Arden is suspected of murdering her husband, and is shuttled to the police department by Holt when he spots her on his ride home.

The story switches point-of-view between Officer Holt and Arden. While Holt is questioning Arden, she tells him her life story, warts and all—her sociopathic cousin, running away, broken hearts, and getting her start in illusions. Between flashbacks, the story focuses on the interrogation.

There was a romance element weaved into the story, but not so much that it was nauseating. In fact, it felt very real, and was never storybook perfect. For the bulk of the storyline, Arden is focused on her career, in an attempt to live her dream and escape the ghosts of her past.

The Magician’s Lie is well-written and engaging. It’s full of twists and turns, and the variation on the narrative points-of-view kept me intrigued and invested in the story.

I rated it a 5/5 on Goodreads. The Magician’s Lie will be published on January 13th. I highly recommend!

I received a free copy of this book through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

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9781402298684_3DSourcebooks, the publisher of The Magician’s Lie, has graciously given us a physical copy to give away to one lucky reader!  To enter, go to our Rafflecopter entry form. There are several different ways to earn extra entries.

The contest ends at midnight on Thursday, December 18th. The winner will be contacted the following day.
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Throwback Thursday: Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline B. Cooney

226550I received my hardback copy of the Goddess of Yesterday during a summer reading program at my local library in 2004. To get our free book from the book cart, we had to read for five hours and turn our coupons in. I read five hours the first day of the summer program and pitched a fit when my mom wouldn’t take us back to the library the next day.

I chose this book from the book cart solely for its cover. I’ve been attracted to fantasy novels from a young age, and without reading the inside cover, I assumed this was a book about Medusa. I was wrong, as it is definitely more historical fiction, but I loved this book just the same. I’ve read it several times since choosing it from that cart, but lost it in a move several years ago.

Goddess of Yesterday is about Anaxandra, who is kidnapped by a king at a young age to be a companion to his young, crippled daughter. She adjusts to life in their culture, until it is sacked by pirates—and she’s the only one who escapes. She assumes the identity of the king’s crippled daughter, Princess Callisto, to survive, and is taken in by the King of Sparta. Helen, his wife, and Paris, her mister, do not believe she is Princess Callisto, and Anaxandra must stay out of the way of spoiled, witchy Helen of Troy to survive.

To this day, I still love the main character. She is extremely resourceful, strong, independent, and likable. She doesn’t need a man to save her, and she saves herself. She is complex and I found myself feeling for her—terrified, relieved, terrified again. Cooney does a fabulous job at shaping her other characters, too, and I also found myself hating Helen of Troy, who is extremely spoiled and terrible.

The story moves along quickly and wraps up well.

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