BOOK REVIEW: The Lost Queen, by Signe Pike

BOOK REVIEW: The Lost Queen, by Signe PikeTitle: The Lost Queen by Signe Pike
Series: The Lost Queen Trilogy #1
Published by Touchstone
Published: September 4th 2018
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Fantasy
Pages: 527
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Mists of Avalon meets Philippa Gregory in the first book of an exciting historical trilogy that reveals the untold story of Languoreth—a powerful and, until now, tragically forgotten queen of sixth-century Scotland—twin sister of the man who inspired the legendary character of Merlin.

Intelligent, passionate, rebellious, and brave, Languoreth is the unforgettable heroine of The Lost Queen, a tale of conflicted loves and survival set against the cinematic backdrop of ancient Scotland, a magical land of myths and superstition inspired by the beauty of the natural world. One of the most powerful early medieval queens in British history, Languoreth ruled at a time of enormous disruption and bloodshed, when the burgeoning forces of Christianity threatened to obliterate the ancient pagan beliefs and change her way of life forever.

Together with her twin brother Lailoken, a warrior and druid known to history as Merlin, Languoreth is catapulted into a world of danger and violence. When a war brings the hero Emrys Pendragon, to their door, Languoreth collides with the handsome warrior Maelgwn. Their passionate connection is forged by enchantment, but Languoreth is promised in marriage to Rhydderch, son of the High King who is sympathetic to the followers of Christianity. As Rhydderch's wife, Languoreth must assume her duty to fight for the preservation of the Old Way, her kingdom, and all she holds dear.

The Lost Queen brings this remarkable woman to life—rescuing her from obscurity, and reaffirming her place at the center of the most enduring legends of all time.

Signe Pike’s The Lost Queen was everything I’d been craving in a historical fiction (with a hint of fantasy) novel. Set in 6th-century Celtic Britain, Pike weaves historical details with Arthurian legends and manages to bring a vivid creation of a young woman’s life to the page. Languoreth is the oft-forgotten twin sister of Lailoken, a warrior and a wisdom keeper who was later known as Merlin. In this first installment of a trilogy, we’re given an insight of Languoreth’s childhood through first love and subsequent marriage, all while the followers of a newly-introduced religion threaten to disrupt life as she and her people know it.

Languoreth and Lailoken are born with gifts and raised in the Old Ways by their mother before her death; and as much as Languoreth would like to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a healer and a wisdom keeper, her father has plans for her to marry to secure an alliance. Even though this novel takes place in the mid-500s, the choices with which Languoreth is faced are immediate, real, and are similar to choices women face today. This first installment in the trilogy is less about Languoreth’s role in Lailoken’s life as it is about her role in becoming a powerful queen, taking charge of the choices she made, and forging her way through a man’s world.

This first novel of a trilogy is rich and engaging, and it sets up for what I hope are brilliant examinations of early Scottish/Celtic life with the invasion of Christianity. I already love the glimpses of day-to-day life in those early courts, and I felt like I was right there next to Languoreth as she experienced everything. I can’t wait to see what happens next with Languoreth, Lailoken, and Pike’s further reimagining of the Arthurian legends. The next one isn’t out until 2020! That’s so far away!! But if you’re looking for something to fill the void between Outlander, Game of Thrones, and Mists of Avalon, definitely check this one out.

Many thanks to Touchstone for sending me a complementary copy to review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Art of the Good Life, by Rolf Dobelli

BOOK REVIEW: The Art of the Good Life, by Rolf DobelliTitle: The Art of the Good Life: 52 Surprising Shortcuts to Happiness, Wealth, and Success by Rolf Dobelli
Published by Hachette Books
Published: November 6th 2018
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 272
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Since antiquity, people have been asking themselves what it means to live a good life. How should I live? What constitutes a good life? What's the role of fate? What's the role of money? Is leading a good life a question of mindset, or is it more about reaching your goals? Is it better to actively seek happiness or to avoid unhappiness?

Each generation poses these questions anew, and somehow the answers are always fundamentally disappointing. Why? Because we're constantly searching for a single principle, a single tenet, a single rule. Yet this holy grail -- a single, simple path to happiness -- doesn't exist. Rolf Dobelli -- successful businessman, founder of the TED-style ideas conference Zurich Minds, bestselling author, and all-around seeker of big ideas -- has made finding a shortcut to happiness his life's mission. He's synthesized the leading thinkers and the latest science in happiness to find the best shortcuts to satisfaction in THE ART OF THE GOOD LIFE, his follow up to the international bestseller The Art of Thinking Clearly (which has sold more than 2.5 million copies in 40 languages all around the globe).

THE ART OF THE GOOD LIFE is a toolkit designed for practical living. Here you'll find fifty-two happiness hacks - from guilt-free shunning of technology to gleefully paying your parking tickets - that are certain to optimize your happiness. These tips may not guarantee you a good life, but they'll give you a better chance (and that's all any of us can ask for).

For the most part, I liked this book. I don’t think it’s ultimately got anything life-changing in it. However, I do think it serves as a good reminder in how to think about what you want in your own “good life.” Not every self-help book is going to be the cure, but I think if you read them critically and think of ways to apply someone else’s thought processes to your own life, you might make your own discoveries.

I read it in short bursts over lunch breaks over the course of a week, and I think it’s best read in little bits rather than all at once. In fifty-two essays, Rolf Dobelli tells us how to live a good life. The essays focused a lot on modesty, on not being overly flashy, that the “mediocre” is often okay. Some of it I agreed with, some of it I was ambivalent towards, and some I disagreed with. The bits about saving and not overspending and overextending yourself I agreed with. We all have a limited resource of time, focus, and energy, and we should be mindful of where we spend those resources.

However, when it came to the subject of giving back to the community, Dobelli suggests that it’s better to just throw money at it and not worry about it otherwise. Living the “good life” to me is not about throwing money at something and forgetting it exists. If I can donate some energy and time to making someone else’s life a little bit better, I feel like I’d get much more out of it than just by donating money. Granted, some of the examples he gave were giving money rather than volunteer tourism, but what about in your local community? The examples Dobelli gave sometimes felt like he’d rather hole himself up inside and not communicate with other people because it’s too exhausting. For me, I think one of the key points of a good life is the relationships and connections you build with other people and your community.

The best ideas out of this book that I needed to be reminded of is the circle of competence (doing what you’re good at), the five-second no (because saying yes all the time is not always a good thing), and a circle of dignity (your foundation, essentially). I know I can devote myself to being good at a lot of things, but I would ultimately rather focus my skills and attention on being great at a few things. Saying no and saying yes without a second thought will ultimately give you more work and stress than you’re expecting, so it’s good to take a few moments to consider it and give a response that’s true to you and your foundation. And you can’t have a foundation until you’ve lived a little, lost a little, and experienced the world in real time. I enjoyed the afterword a lot, too, as it made the entire thing a little more personal to Dobelli.

If you’re looking for a bite-sized pick-me-up based on research and using real-life examples, you might enjoy what you find in here!

Thank you to Hachette for sending me a complimentary copy to review!

BOOK REVIEW: Code Girls, by Liza Mundy

BOOK REVIEW: Code Girls, by Liza MundyTitle: Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy
Published by Hachette Books
Published: October 2nd 2018
Genres: History, Non-Fiction
Pages: 448
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Recruited by the U.S. Army and Navy from small towns and elite colleges, more than ten thousand women served as codebreakers during World War II. While their brothers and boyfriends took up arms, these women moved to Washington and learned the meticulous work of code-breaking. Their efforts shortened the war, saved countless lives, and gave them access to careers previously denied to them. A strict vow of secrecy nearly erased their efforts from history; now, through dazzling research and interviews with surviving code girls, bestselling author Liza Mundy brings to life this riveting and vital story of American courage, service, and scientific accomplishment.

When I think of code breaking in World War II, I think of Alan Turning, British spies, and the Enigma machine. The history I was familiar with growing up didn’t mention much about American code breaking, let alone no mention of women’s involvement in code breaking during World War II.

Liza Mundy explores women who joined both the Army (WAC) and Navy (WAVES) to aid the war effort in code breaking. She focuses mostly on two women named Dot and Crow, but also includes other notable women who contributed. Mundy draws on her own research and interviews she conducted with these women, and I felt like I could read countless pages about the lives of these women and the risks they took.

It is both inspiring and frustrating to realize how much work these women did to aid the war effort and how little credit they have received in our history books. Now knowing that the work these women did to break codes entirely shifted the American’s trajectory during World War II, I want everyone who is interested in women’s history and war history to read this. It further goes to show that the paths taken in wartime are never black and white, never just a boy’s club, and never as straight as some would like to assume. War is complicated, and these women sometimes had to break codes containing information that lead to the direct harm of people they knew without being able to put a stop to the attacks. Mundy showcases the strength and resilience of these women in then-unheard of situations.

This comes highly recommended from me, so if you are interested in women’s history and World War II history, add this to your TBRs immediately.

Thank you to Hachette for sending me a complimentary copy for review. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: A Knife in the Fog, by Bradley Harper

BOOK REVIEW: A Knife in the Fog, by Bradley HarperTitle: A Knife in the Fog by Bradley Harper
Published by Seventh Street Books
Published: October 2nd 2018
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 288
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Physician Arthur Conan Doyle takes a break from his practice to assist London police in tracking down Jack the Ripper in this debut novel and series starter.

September 1888. A twenty-nine-year-old Arthur Conan Doyle practices medicine by day and writes at night. His first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, although gaining critical and popular success, has only netted him twenty-five pounds. Embittered by the experience, he vows never to write another “crime story.” Then a messenger arrives with a mysterious summons from former Prime Minister William Gladstone, asking him to come to London immediately.

Once there, he is offered one month’s employment to assist the Metropolitan Police as a “consultant” in their hunt for the serial killer soon to be known as Jack the Ripper. Doyle agrees on the stipulation his old professor of surgery, Professor Joseph Bell—Doyle’s inspiration for Sherlock Holmes—agrees to work with him. Bell agrees, and soon the two are joined by Miss Margaret Harkness, an author residing in the East End who knows how to use a Derringer and serves as their guide and companion.

Pursuing leads through the dank alleys and courtyards of Whitechapel, they come upon the body of a savagely murdered fifth victim. Soon it becomes clear that the hunters have become the hunted when a knife-wielding figure approaches.

As someone who enjoys Sherlock Holmes pastiches and nearly anything revolving around Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s life outside of those stories, I was incredibly excited to see a new mystery (or mystery series, perhaps? Goodreads says it’s a series starter!) involving Conan Doyle, Bell, and Margaret Harkness. Bradley Harper’s A Knife in the Fog is incredibly well-researched and well-rounded. It’s difficult to get the tone and language of the time period to be believable without feeling as if it’s forced, and Harper manages to bring the style of the time forward to modern ears.

A Knife in the Fog follows Doyle, Bell, and Harkness as they try to deduce who calls himself “Jack the Ripper” and his motives for attacking the working women of Whitechapel. There are numerous theories of the identity of Jack the Ripper, and Harper’s theory ties in believably in the scope of his novel. Margaret Harkness is a lively figure in history brought to life in the novel in such a way that charges the trajectory of the narrative. As a reader, I thought the addition of Margaret Harkness into the dynamic duo of Bell and Doyle was a necessary and wonderful addition to the story. While I won’t go into spoilery details, Harkness is one of the two women in this story who forces each Bell and Doyle to reconsider their assumptions and prejudices about women and women’s work. And given the traditional nature of these boys’ club mysteries, I was pleasantly surprised to see two women.

I also liked the nods to various literary figures and future Sherlock Holmes stories scattered throughout the book as well. It was like hunting for literary clues. Overall, this is a well-paced, well-researched, and well-crafted mystery with just the right amount of flair and atmosphere. If you enjoy historical fiction/mysteries, Jack the Ripper stories, and Doyle/Holmes pastiches, I highly recommend you check out A Knife in the Fog!

Thank you to Seventh Street Books for sending me a complimentary review copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Not Her Daughter, by Rea Frey

BOOK REVIEW: Not Her Daughter, by Rea FreyTitle: Not Her Daughter by Rea Frey
Published by St. Martin's Griffin
Published: August 21st 2018
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 352
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Emma Grace Townsend. Five years old. Gray eyes. Brown hair. Missing since June.

Emma Townsend is lonely. Living with her cruel mother and clueless father, Emma retreats into her own world of quiet and solitude.

Sarah Walker. Successful entrepreneur. Broken-hearted. Abandoned by her mother. Kidnapper.Sarah has never seen a girl so precious as the gray-eyed child in a crowded airport terminal--and when a second-chance encounter with Emma presents itself, Sarah takes her, far away from home. But if it's to rescue a little girl from her damaging mother, is kidnapping wrong?

Amy Townsend. Unhappy wife. Unfit mother. Unsure she wants her daughter back.Amy's life is a string of disappointments, but her biggest issue is her inability to connect with her daughter. And now she's gone without a trace.

As Sarah and Emma avoid the nationwide hunt, they form an unshakeable bond. But her real mother is at home, waiting for her to return--and the longer the search for Emma continues, Amy is forced to question if she really wants her back.

Emotionally powerful and wire-taut, Not Her Daughter raises the question of what it means to be a mother--and how far someone will go to keep a child safe.

Rea Frey’s Not Her Daughter is a well-paced domestic thriller in which Sarah Walker, a successful entrepreneur, kidnaps Emma Townsend, a five year old girl. Amy Townsend, Emma’s mother, is worried about her daughter’s disappearance, but she also feels some kind of secret relief in not having to deal with the personality clashes she has with her own daughter. That secret relief Amy felt was one of the most interesting parts of the book for me.

While I felt like I did have to suspend disbelief a little bit while reading this novel, I really enjoyed how this was formatted. Not Her Daughter is divided into the perspectives of Sarah Walker and Amy Townsend, each with subsections of “before,” “during,” and “after.” The way each of these glimpses into the lives and minds of the two women added such depth to the story and kept me turning the pages because I wanted to know how this would be resolved and how everything would turn out in the end.

Some of the issues I had with the novel were the body-shaming and a few logistic issues near the end. I am tired of the trope that the “bad” women are fat and not very pretty, while the protagonist is fit and conventionally attractive. The traveling scenes at the end of the book seemed farfetched in terms of distance and time as neither seemed very clear, and that’s where some of the suspension of disbelief tied in.

However, I did enjoy Frey’s writing. I found it engaging and well-constructed. And I loved the dynamic of Sarah and Emma’s mother/daughter bonding.

Not Her Daughter brings into question what is right and wrong in terms of a young child’s life, and Rea Frey deals with the difficult subjects of abusive and neglectful children, the children of parents who were neglectful, and how each of those circumstances tie together everything a person does in their present and future.

If you enjoy domestic thrillers and are looking for a new writer to add to your reading lists, definitely pick this one up!

Thank you so much to St. Martin’s Press for sending me a complimentary copy to review!