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Feb 11, 2020

The Queen's Fortune by Allison Pataki

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Queen's Fortune A Novel of Desiree, Napoleon, and the Dynasty That Outlasted the Empire by Allison Pataki
Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine, February 11 2020
Historical Fiction, 448 pages
Review EGalley via netgalley, thank you! 

A sweeping novel about the extraordinary woman who captured Napoleon’s heart, created a dynasty, and changed the course of history—from the New York Times bestselling author of The Traitor's Wife, The Accidental Empress, and Sisi.
As the French revolution ravages the country, Desiree Clary is faced with the life-altering truth that the world she has known and loved is gone and it’s fallen on her to save her family from the guillotine.
A chance encounter with Napoleon Bonaparte, the ambitious and charismatic young military prodigy, provides her answer. When her beloved sister Julie marries his brother Joseph, Desiree and Napoleon’s futures become irrevocably linked. Quickly entering into their own passionate, dizzying courtship that leads to a secret engagement, they vow to meet in the capital once his career has been secured. But her newly laid plans with Napoleon turn to sudden heartbreak, thanks to the rising star of Parisian society, Josephine de Beauharnais. Once again, Desiree’s life is turned on its head.
Swept to the glittering halls of the French capital, Desiree is plunged into the inner circle of the new ruling class, becoming further entangled with Napoleon, his family, and the new Empress. But her fortunes shift once again when she meets Napoleon's confidant and star general, the indomitable Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte. As the two men in Desiree’s life become political rivals and military foes, the question that arises is: must she choose between the love of her new husband and the love of her nation and its Emperor?
From the lavish estates of the French Riviera to the raucous streets of Paris and Stockholm, Desiree finds herself at the epicenter of the rise and fall of an empire, navigating a constellation of political giants and dangerous, shifting alliances. Emerging from an impressionable girl into a fierce young woman, she discovers that to survive in this world she must learn to rely upon her instincts and her heart.
Allison Pataki’s meticulously researched and brilliantly imagined novel sweeps readers into the unbelievable life of a woman almost lost to history—a woman who, despite the swells of a stunning life and a tumultuous time, not only adapts and survives but, ultimately, reigns at the helm of a dynasty that outlasts an empire.

Way back in 2010 I read a fabulous book originally written in 1953 by Annemarie Selinko: Desiree. I absolutely loved this story about Desiree Clary, a merchant's daughter who grew up to first be Napoleon's girlfriend then eventually a major part of his family as his brother married Desiree's sister. This newest novel brings Desiree's story to us once again and while fictionalized for hist-fic's sake, it is a story that is so amazing that it inspires several other famous works as Pataki notes at the end of her novel.

I do not need to go into a listing of the intriguing facts of Desiree's life story as it starts in the novel circa 1794 but definitely must expand on the fact that Pataki's retelling of Desiree's story -- and by default Napoleon's and Josephine's as well - is not to be missed. I never tired of Desiree's story, and I always found myself eager to pick up the book even while I was reading another at the same time. While Pataki's writing is done in a matter of fact style, thankfully avoiding being overly dramatic, she gives an easy to read snapshot of the life of Desiree Clary.

And while I found myself disliking the characters of Napoleon and Josephine throughout this telling, it was tear- jerking when their saga was over and that's only because of the storytelling of Allison Pataki.

But what of fate? Just imagine if Desiree and her sister Julie didn't bump into Joseph Bonaparte when their brother was arrested, would there be such a dynasty that Desiree Clary was a matriarch of? Desiree would not have met Napoleon, who requested Bernadotte to pay special attention to Desiree in the first place. Then Desiree and Bernadotte would not have been married and would not have become King and Queen of Sweden.

Desiree becomes Queen of Sweden (her husband the inspiration for Dumas!) and her descendants are still rulers today, forever linked with Empress Josephine, hence the subtitle of this novel. I really enjoyed this story of revolution, revival, love and revenge among rulers. It even makes me want to read Selinko's novel again just to see if Desiree comes off as willing to go to heaven and hell and back again just because of her love for her beloved Bernadotte.

Read my review of The Traitor's Wife by Allison Pataki at this link

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Wicked Saints and Ruthless Gods by Emily Duncan

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Wicked Saints published April 2019

Ruthless Gods published April 2020

Something Dark and Holy series, books 1 & 2 by Emily Duncan.

Thank you to St. Martin's Press for providing the eGalley to review Ruthless Gods, the sequel to Wicked Saints.

I had read Wicked Saints by Emily Duncan last November as this short summary was quite intriguing:
A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.
A prince in danger must decide who to trust.
A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings.
Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.
In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light. Wicked Saints is the thrilling start to Emily A. Duncan’s devastatingly Gothic Something Dark and Holy trilogy..

The story is about magical gods, stranger customs to evoke magical powers through blood and one girl's journey of gruesome survival as she struggles to understand who or what she is while trying to save her country. Definitely a fantasy with a bit of incredulity involved but a great premise. While the action in the story was drawn out it was the characters that kept me reading as they were the most intriguing element of Wicked Saints as the shifting plot line bounced out of grasp as to who we were rooting for.

"Ruthless Gods opens the door to a world of fallen gods and eldritch horrors... Gruesome, grotesque, and so, so glorious." - Erin A. Craig, New York Times bestselling author of House of Salt and Sorrows.

Nadya doesn’t trust her magic anymore. Serefin is fighting off a voice in his head that doesn’t belong to him. Malachiasz is at war with who--and what--he’s become.

As their group is continually torn apart, the girl, the prince, and the monster find their fates irrevocably intertwined. Their paths are being orchestrated by someone…or something.

The voices that Serefin hears in the darkness, the ones that Nadya believes are her gods, the ones that Malachiasz is desperate to meet—those voices want a stake in the world, and they refuse to stay quiet any longer.

In her dramatic follow-up to Wicked Saints, the first book in her Something Dark and Holy trilogy, Emily A. Duncan paints a Gothic, icy world where shadows whisper, and no one is who they seem, with a shocking ending that will leave you breathless.

Book two of Something Dark and Holy is Ruthless Gods and yet I am not quite seeing where the Ruthless Gods were in the whole story as yet again that was out of grasp. Serefin and Malachiasz are proven to be more connected than we first imagine which made for a neat twist but the whole Serefin is gay thing was out of place in the story. This seems to be a trope thing thrown in to newer YA reads just to pander to the audience; I think it is offensive at times to those who identify as such in the first place (but that's another topic for another day). Speaking of offensive: the author also warns her readers of several trigger warnings such as self-harm and "body horror/eye horror".

The main heroine in the series is Nadya and she is supposed to be super magical and 'holy' but apparently she needs to have special beads to talk to gods to be special (so this time she fell flat for me) as the gods were not listening- since Malachiasz is still alive. It was 432 pages of this journey where the characters are at separate stages of their journeys and at 21% I wrote "So they're on this forgettable journey to get Zaneta from the Salt Mines (not that I know what that means) & "Something is stirring. Something is hungry." & if Something Doesn't Happen Soon I AM SLITTING MY WRISTS"
There was a lot of foreshadowing and build up to action as the author really likes to develop the characters thoroughly.

I am writing this review a few weeks after I actually finished it and yet it feels like it has been much longer than that. The saving grace for this story are those characters and yet I still don't feel like these characters' goals were explained properly; the narrative was a lot of musing. Not that I could do better, I do think there was so much potential .. but I kinda think this series would have been better off whittled down from a trilogy down to a good chunky book if some of the repetitiveness was edited out.

I am undecided as to whether or not I would like to read book three, it would depend on the description and the length of it. If the description doesn't tell me exactly what the actual goal is, then I don't want to embark on their journey of weird magic for no particular reason/just to see people interact with each other.

But yet-- if the story would really let something develop and focus on Nadya and Malachiasz saving the world without all the other hangers on, you might rope me into it if St. Martin's Press/Wednesday Books is willing to take another chance with me. They certainly do not need to attempt it as these books have quite a following already on Goodreads and I am one of the few that did not give this one five stars.

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Feb 1, 2020

The Hazel Wood Volume 1 and 2 by Melissa Albert

Saturday, February 01, 2020

The Hazel Wood originally published January 2019

The Night Country originally published January 2020

Thank you to Flatiron Books for offering the eGalley of The Night Country in exchange for this review.

Welcome to Melissa Albert's The Hazel Wood―the fiercely stunning New York Times bestseller everyone is raving about!

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert was a very intriguing debut novel about Alice-Three-Times whose grandmother has written Tales from Hinterland/fairy tales which aren't necessarily fairy tales in Alice's world. Alice was living her life moving from place to place as her mother fled from unknown threats until the weirdness caught up with them and mom disappears. So Alice and her nerdy friend Finch head out in search of the Hazel Wood in the hopes to rescue mom Ella in spite of mom's famous last words to stay away from the Hazel Wood. I loved how the more creepy fairy tale nuances were ever present and how we as a reader get to experience the journey along with Alice as she discovers more secrets than she can imagine about her own origins. The word 'story' is a very important theme as they are all part of a puzzle that Finch and Alice need to unravel in order to survive the Hazel Wood. A novel so well done and mesmerizing that I couldn't wait to read the sequel, The Night Country:

In The Night Country, Alice Proserpine dives back into a menacing, mesmerizing world of dark fairy tales and hidden doors. Follow her and Ellery Finch as they learn The Hazel Wood was just the beginning, and that worlds die not with a whimper, but a bang.
With Finch’s help, Alice escaped the Hinterland and her reclusive grandmother’s dark legacy. Now she and the rest of the dregs of the fairy tale world have washed up in New York City, where Alice is trying to make a new, unmagical life. But something is stalking the Hinterland’s survivors―and she suspects their deaths may have a darker purpose. Meanwhile, in the winking out world of the Hinterland, Finch seeks his own adventure, and―if he can find it―a way back home...

So now we have Alice but no Ellery Finch back in the real world, naively feeling safe from The Hazel Wood.  Alice is hanging out with other "survivors" from the Hinterland but then strange occurrences are happening to those who tried to escape to New York City, painting Alice as the chief suspect behind the mayhem. She also gets strange notes from Ellery and she realizes she misses him more than she thought she would and perhaps the two need to meet up again in the unknown but spooky Night Country to see if they can spark up a romance. But time does funny things and one doesn't know how time correlates from one world to another; and then: who is part of a story or just a witness to one? Tales are spun and more puzzles to solve and Alice's life as she knows it is in dire jeopardy if she doesn't come up with some real evidence that she isn't really the bad guy from one of the tales that were spun by the evil spinner.

I am so glad that I was able to read both of these books so close to each other because there are many threads originally sewn with the first book weaving through The Night Country and reading book one of The Hazel Wood is a definite must before reading The Night Country. I noticed a lot of references to other stories and fantasy novels that I have recently read which was a little weird but ultimately felt like, "hey -I knew about this too!" type of fandom feel. I really enjoyed both of these books and I am certainly looking forward to anything else Melissa Albert publishes as I adore her writing style.

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