Thursday, August 29, 2013

Book Review: Tarnish by Katherine Longshore


Anne Boleyn is the odd girl out. Newly arrived to the court of King Henry VIII, everything about her seems wrong, from her clothes to her manners to her witty but sharp tongue. So when the dashing poet Thomas Wyatt offers to coach her on how to shine at court—and to convince the whole court they’re lovers—she accepts. Before long, Anne’s popularity has soared, and even the charismatic and irresistible king takes notice. More than popularity, Anne wants a voice—but she also wants love. What began as a game becomes high stakes as Anne finds herself forced to make an impossible choice between her heart's desire and the chance to make history.

Viking Juvenile | June 18, 2013 | 448 pages | ISBN-10: 0670014001

My Review

Tarnish, the latest novel from Katherine Longshore, features a familiar historical figure as its central protagonist: Anne Boleyn. While Anne is often a principal character in works of historical fiction, Tarnish differentiates itself from the multitude of other Anne Boleyn novels by focusing on Anne’s life in the years immediately before she captured the eye of Henry VIII.

Returning to the English court after spending most of her early years abroad, young Anne Boleyn has few friends and even fewer prospects. When poet Thomas Wyatt, a member of King Henry’s inner circle, offers Anne both friendship and the opportunity to gain prominence at court, she accepts. But Anne’s unwillingness to conform keeps her on the periphery of court life. Unhappy with how her life is unfolding, Anne decides to take hold of her own destiny. Her choices are limited, however, and one wrong move may cause her to lose everything. As Anne slowly gains acceptance at court, her relationship with Wyatt grows increasingly complicated, and her feelings for him conflicted. To further confuse her situation, Anne finds herself on the receiving end of King Henry’s attentions – attentions she enjoys receiving.

Geared towards the young adult market, Tarnish features several themes to which a young adult audience can relate, such as the struggle to find one’s place in the world. Longshore’s Anne Boleyn is quick-witted and clever, but she also lacks confidence and seeks validation. As the story is told from the teenage Anne’s perspective, it allows young adult readers to easily identify not only with the novel’s themes, but also with Anne herself. While marketed to ages 12 and up, some of the language and subject matter of this novel make it better suited to older teen readers.

Note: This review first appeared in the August 2013 edition of the Historical Novels Review.  A copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Winners: Queen's Gambit Giveaway

I'm pleased to announce that the two winners, selected using, for Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle are:

Tiffany and CeeCee


Thank you to Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for the opportunity to host the giveaway. 

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Few Thoughts On...The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora by Stephanie Thornton


Where 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?

NAL Trade | July 2, 2013 | 448 pages

My Thoughts

- Enjoyable, well-written debut novel about Byzantine Empress Theodora, wife of Emperor Justinian I.
- A long novel that doesn't feel like one given that the narrative moves quickly and there are no lulls in the story.

- Stephanie Thornton does a great job developing Theodora's character.  Theodora is portrayed as an intelligent, ambitious and politically savvy woman who rises from humble beginnings to become the most powerful woman in the Byzantine empire. 

- The book also features some memorable secondary characters, many of whom are just as interesting as Theodora. 

- The novel is rich in historical detail, giving the reader a feel for the time period and place in which the story is set (6th century Constantinople).  It is obvious a good deal of research went into the writing of this book and, thanks to Thornton's efforts, I'm now interesting in reading more novels set during this era of Byzantine history.    
- Reading this novel I was reminded of the works of Kate Quinn, so if you enjoy Quinn's novels I highly recommend you give The Secret History a try. 

- Do I look forward to reading more from Stephanie Thornton?  Most definitely! 

Rating: 4 out 5 stars

Source: My personal collection

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Monday, August 26, 2013

A Few Thoughts On Mixing Up My Review Format

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to the format of my reviews.  While I like my current format, I don't have the time (or inclination) to write full length reviews for every book I read.  In order to share my thoughts on some of the books I might not otherwise review,  I've decided to incorporate into this blog some shorter, point form reviews.  This format, which will debut this week, will be known as my "A Few Thoughts On" reviews.  While I will continue to post long reviews, especially for those books I've committed to reviewing, it is my hope that this new approach will encourage me to post more frequently.    

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Votives: Promises and Gratitude to the Gods - Guest Post by Elisabeth Storrs (includes Giveaway)

I'm very pleased to welcome Elisabeth Storrs, author of The Wedding Shroud and The Golden Dice to the blog today for a guest post related to ancient Etruscan customs.  If you haven't read either of Elisabeth's two fabulous novels I highly recommend you do so. 

As part of this guest post Elisabeth has also graciously offered to provide a digital copy of The Golden Dice, her most recent release, to one lucky reader -- giveaway details are outlined at the end of this post.

Without further ado I'll hand the floor over to Elisabeth.


Votives: Promises and Gratitude to the Gods 

‘I give so that you give’ is the principle behind votive gifts in the ancient world. These were rituals objects offered to the gods to grant a wish. And if the request was answered, another votive was given in thanks.
Votive male figurine
The Etruscans followed this practice with enthusiasm. Thousands of these gifts were deposited in trenches within sanctuaries or outside city walls, and in the countryside beside rivers and crossroads. In temples these votives were placed on tables or against walls or niches. When the space became overcrowded, the offerings were moved to make room for new ones. They were then ritually buried within the sanctuary to ensure they remained consecrated.

Votives could take the form of ceramic ware and utensils such as knives, jugs and bowls for dining after the ritual. Others consisted of pottery or bronze figurines made to win the gods’ favour. Little statuettes of animals such as horses, pigs and cows were often proffered in place of living beasts.

Votive hands

A votive was commonly offered to the gods to ask for an improvement in health. These could be in the form of full body figurines representing the supplicants themselves or sculptures of their heads. Some heads were life size, others in miniature. Many are covered by a mantle, a sign of respect when performing a religious ceremony. Most charming of all are those of swaddled babies, the offering of a mother seeking protection for her child.

Votive of swaddled babies

There are also grotesque models of body parts and organs such as feet, hands, fingers, eyes, ears, tongues, breasts, wombs and penises as well as representations of entrails and bodies cut open to display various internal organs. Each reveals the prayer of a person seeking to cure a disease or ailment. One votive is of a womb that appears to be undergoing contractions, perhaps a plea from an anxious pregnant woman to ensure she survives childbirth. In other cases, models of wombs are believed to be a request to a god to grant fertility.

Votive of womb showing contractions

Humble wooden shrines dotted the sides of the road before which small votives vied for space as well as for divine favor. Some were fashioned into the shapes of hands or feet engraved with imprecations to soothe crippled fingers or heal a broken toe.’  The Wedding Shroud – A Tale of Ancient Rome

Votive female head with mantle

Which gods received votives? Although there are inscriptions on bronze images offered by wealthier, more educated Etruscans, there are virtually no engravings on the terracotta images that were mass produced and used by an illiterate eschelon of society. However, some votives were believed to be of the gods themselves such as Tinia (Apollo), Turan (Venus) and Fufluns (Dionysus). And while there are inscriptions seeking the protection of Uni (Juno), the goddess of marriage, women and children, there were also dedications to Selvans (Silvanus) the god of the forest. This supposedly would have been to appease him as his presence was an evil omen when in childbirth.

‘Little votives cluttered the space around the statue’s feet representing pleas and prayers. Among them were many small images of Uni, appealing to the vanity of the divinity as much as her mercy.’
The Golden Dice – A Tale of Ancient Rome

It is doubtful the poorer people would have been able to afford even a moulded votive. Instead they may have offered perishable goods: wood, cloth, bread, fruit or flowers. Whether modest or expensive, though, the Etruscan’s use of votives and inscribed vows reveal the universal desire of mankind to seek help in need and give thanks when blessed.

The characters in my Tales of Ancient Rome series also seek the protection of the gods through votive offerings. The books chronicle the events of a ten year siege between Rome and the Etruscan city of Veii. The Wedding Shroud ends when war is declared. The Golden Dice continues the story seven years later at the height of the conflict. In addition to following the Roman treaty bride, Caecilia, two other strong female characters are introduced: Semni, a young Etruscan girl, and Pinna, a Roman tomb whore.  I hope readers will enjoy visiting Etruria again, or venture into this world for the first time to learn how three women of the ancient world endure a war. You will find more information on the background to the book in this post on my blog, Triclinium. The Wedding Shroud and The Golden Dice are available on Amazon as an ebook and paperback or via other retailers listed on my website. And I would love to connect with you on Facebook and Twitter.

The Golden Dice

During a ten year siege between two age-old enemies, three women follow very different paths to survive:

Caecilia, a young Roman woman, forsakes her city by marrying the Etruscan Vel Mastarna, exposing herself to the enmity of his people and the hatred of the Romans who consider her a traitoress…

Semni, a reckless Etruscan girl, becomes a servant in the House of Mastarna, embroiling herself in schemes that threaten Caecilia's children and her own chance for romance…

Pinna, a tomb whore, uses blackmail to escape her grim life and gain the attention of Rome's greatest general, choosing between her love for him and her loyalty to another…

In this second volume in the Tales of Ancient Rome series, the lives of women in war are explored together with the sexuality, religion, and politics of Roman and Etruscan cultures, two great civilizations of ancient history.

The Wedding Shroud

In 406 BC, to seal a tenuous truce, the young Roman Caecilia is wedded to Vel Mastarna, an Etruscan nobleman from the city of Veii. The fledgling Republic lies only twelve miles across the Tiber from its neighbor, but the cities are from opposing worlds so different are their customs and beliefs. Leaving behind a righteous Rome, Caecilia is determined to remain true to Roman virtues while living among the sinful Etruscans. Instead she finds herself tempted by a hedonistic culture which offers pleasure and independence to women as well as an ancient religion that gives her a chance to delay her destiny. Yet Mastarna and his people also hold dark secrets and, as war looms, Caecilia discovers that Fate is not so easy to control and that she must finally choose where her allegiance lies.

Exploring themes of sexuality, destiny versus self-determination and tolerance versus prejudice, The Wedding Shroud is historical fiction at its best which vividly brings Ancient Rome and Etruria to life while accenting the lives of women in ancient history.


Elisabeth Storrs has long held an interest in the history, myths and legends of the ancient world. She is an Australian author and graduated from the University of Sydney in Arts Law, having studied Classics. She lives with her husband and two sons in Sydney and over the years has worked as a solicitor, corporate lawyer, governance consultant and business writer. The Wedding Shroud was judged runner-up in the international 2012 Sharp Writ Book Awards for general fiction.



I'm pleased to host a giveaway for one digital copy of The Golden Dice.  Here are the giveaway details:

- To enter, simply leave a comment below with your email address;
- The giveaway is open internationally;
- The giveaway will run until midnight (EST) September 2, 2013;
- The winner will be selected using

Good Luck!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Book Review: The Golden Dice by Elisabeth Storrs


In The Golden Dice, sequel to The Wedding Shroud, three women follow very different paths to survive a ten-year siege between two age-old enemies:

Caecilia, a young Roman woman, forsakes Rome to return to her Etruscan husband, Vel Mastarna, exposing herself to the enmity of his people and the hatred of the Romans who consider her a traitoress...

Semni, a reckless Etruscan girl, becomes a servant in the House of Mastarna, embroiling herself in schemes that threaten Caecilia's children and her own chance for romance...

Pinna, a tomb whore, uses blackmail to escape her grim life and gain the attention of Rome's greatest general, choosing between her love for him and her loyalty to another...

In this second volume in the Tales of Ancient Rome series, the lives of women in war are explored together with the sexuality, religion, and politics of Roman and Etruscan cultures, two great civilizations of ancient history.

Cornelian Press | June 7, 2013 | 454 pages

My Review

5 Stars

The Golden Dice, the latest novel in Elisabeth Storrs' Tales of Ancient Rome series, takes readers back to the 4th century BC, to a time when ancient Etruria was the most powerful civilization on the Italian peninsula.  Yet, at the same time, Rome continued to gain strength and started to challenge for supremacy.  

Opening seven years after the events of the The Wedding Shroud (the first novel in the series) concluded, The Golden Dice features the return of several familiar characters.  The most significant of whom is Caecilia, a Roman woman who, in the first novel, was forced to marry a powerful Etruscan Lord, Vel Mastarna, to secure a peace treaty between Rome and the Etruscan city of Veii.  At the outset of The Golden Dice the reader learns that Caecilia and Vel are now happily settled into married life and have started a family.  Their happiness, however, is marred by the bitter war now taking place between Veii and Rome, a war that sees Veii under siege year after year.  While Caecilia knows that Veii must emerge victorious to ensure her family's survival, she doesn't want victory to come at the price of the destruction of Rome.  Storrs does a masterful job of illustrating Caecilia's inner turmoil.  While Caecilia is the central character of this novel, The Golden Dice also features two other remarkable women: Semni, a potter turned servant within Caecilia's household, and Pinna, a Roman tomb prostitute (known as a night moth) who seeks to better her situation in life.  While the reader may not always agree with the actions and decisions taken by either Semni or Pinna, Storrs has developed both characters in such a way as to leave readers rooting for them. 

A great cast of characters is only one of the many strengths of The Golden Dice.  Storrs' prose is eloquent and her attention to detail leaves the reader with a very strong sense of time and place.   The plot, which alternates between the stories of Caecilia, Semni and Pinna, is always engaging and never drags.  In fact, I found this novel a difficult one to put down and I was sorry to see it end.  The novel's setting, however, has to be my favourite aspect of the book.  While much historical fiction has been written of ancient Rome, few novels within the genre have featured ancient Etruria so prominently.   As a reader interested in exploring some of history's less well-known civilizations, I appreciate that Storrs has chosen to focus her novels in Etruria.  As was the case in The Wedding Shroud, Storrs deftly showcases the often striking differences between Etruscan and Roman customs and beliefs, whether they pertain to religion, the treatment of women, or to politics.  Even though Veii and Rome were only twelve miles apart in distance, they might as well have been on other sides of the world given how very different they were. 

Storrs does a good job of incorporating the key events from The Wedding Shroud into The Golden Dice and, as a result, this latest novel can be read independently of the first.   Nevertheless, I strongly recommend starting with the first book as I think it will enrich the reading experience of this one (my review of The Wedding Shroud can be found here).   

The Golden Dice is an excellent novel, one that I highly recommended to all fans of historical fiction, especially those who enjoy reading novels set in the ancient world. 

Note: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Book Review and Giveaway (US Only): Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle


Widowed for the second time at age thirty-one Katherine Parr falls deeply for the dashing courtier Thomas Seymour and hopes at last to marry for love. However, obliged to return to court, she attracts the attentions of the ailing, egotistical, and dangerously powerful Henry VIII, who dispatches his love rival, Seymour, to the Continent. No one is in a position to refuse a royal proposal so, haunted by the fates of his previous wives—two executions, two annulments, one death in childbirth—Katherine must wed Henry and become his sixth queen.

Katherine has to employ all her instincts to navigate the treachery of the court, drawing a tight circle of women around her, including her stepdaughter, Meg, traumatized by events from their past that are shrouded in secrecy, and their loyal servant Dot, who knows and sees more than she understands. With the Catholic faction on the rise once more, reformers being burned for heresy, and those close to the king vying for position, Katherine’s survival seems unlikely. Yet as she treads the razor’s edge of court intrigue, she never quite gives up on love.

Simon & Schuster | August 6, 2013 | 432 pages

My Review

4 Stars

Fans of Tudor historical fiction will find much to like in Queen's Gambit, Elizabeth Fremantle's debut novel.  In a genre crowded with tales of Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon, Fremantle's novel, which is about Katherine Parr, Henry VIII's sixth wife, is a welcome addition.

Often overshadowed by her more famous predecessors, Katherine Parr was a remarkable woman, a fact that comes across clearly throughout the course of this novel.  Katherine's intelligence and political acumen served to ensure her survival in a court where one false move could result in death.  Fremantle effectively captures Henry VIII's tempestuous nature, his erratic and ever-changing moods, and his constant need for admiration and obedience.  The fear Henry inspired in those around him radiates off the pages as Katherine does her best to keep her husband happy while also staying true to her beliefs.  As Katherine was a committed reformer, one of my favourite aspects of this novel was the incorporation into the narrative of aspects of the English Reformation, which continued to gain momentum during the latter part of Henry VIII's reign even though many earlier reforms were overturned.  I also enjoyed how Fremantle portrayed Katherine's relationship with Henry's children.

One of the greatest strength's of Queen's Gambit is the historical detail.  This detail is seamlessly woven into the fabric of the narrative and leaves the reader with a strong sense of both time and place.  Another of this novel's strengths are the characters.  While I've read other works of historical fiction that feature Katherine Parr (although never anything in which she is the main character), I've always been rather ambivalent towards her.  Queen's Gambit has changed that, and I've come to appreciate just how extraordinary she was.  The supporting characters in this novel are also well-drawn.  I particularly liked Dot, Katherine's loyal maid, and Dr. Huicke, Katherine's physician.  I'm very much looking forward to reading more from Elizabeth Fremantle. 

Queen's Gambit is highly recommended to fans of Tudor-era historical fiction.

Note: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Queen's Gambit is currently on tour.  Click here to check out the tour schedule. 

Also be sure to check out the official book trailer by clicking here

About the Author

Elizabeth Fremantle holds a first class degree in English and an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck College London. She has contributed as a fashion editor to various publications including Vogue, Elle and The Sunday Times. QUEEN'S GAMBIT is her debut novel and is the first in a Tudor trilogy. The second novel, SISTERS OF TREASON, will be released in 2014. She lives in London.

For more about Elizabeth and her future projects see  

You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.


As part of the Queen's Gambit Virtual Book Tour, I'm pleased to host a giveaway for two copies of the novel.  Giveaway details are as follows:

- The giveaway is open to US residents only;
- To enter simply leave a comment below with your email address;
- The giveaway will run until midnight (EST) 25 August 2013;
- The two winners will be selected using 

Good Luck! 
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Monday, August 12, 2013

Book Review: Red Joan by Jennie Rooney


Joan’s voice is almost a whisper. ‘Nobody talked about what they did during the war. We all knew we weren’t allowed to.’

Joan Stanley has a secret.

For fifty years she has been a loving mother, a doting grandmother and an occasional visitor to ballroom dancing and water colour classes.  Then one sunlit spring morning there is a knock on the door.

Doubleday Canada | May 21, 2013 | 400 pages

My Review

4 Stars

Jennie Rooney's latest novel, Red Joan, tells the story of Joan Stanley, who, at the novel's outset, appears to be nothing more than an older woman making the most of her remaining years.  But there is much more to Joan than meets the eye, and the truth about her past is about to catch up with her.  Joan, who worked in a top-secret British research establishment during the Second World War, engaged in post-War treasonous activities that now, more than fifty years later, MI5 has finally uncovered. 

Alternating between Joan's story in the modern-day, which focuses on her interactions with MI5 and with her grown son, and in WWII-era Britain, which showcases Joan's life during the War and immediately after it, Red Joan is an engaging story.  Joan is well-drawn and the motivations behind her behaviour are clearly articulated.  Given the nature of Joan's actions, however, she is not a character likely to elicit sympathy from readers.  Nevertheless, readers should find Joan's story to be an interesting one.  For me, one of the greatest strengths of this novel is that it illustrates how a woman such as Joan was able to engage in covert activities without getting caught (there were several times I asked myself how the authorities could be so blind), even when it was evident such activities were taking place within her small work unit.  

Given the nature of this novel's plot, I found this a difficult review to write as I didn't want to inadvertently give away any important plot points by saying too much about the exact nature of Joan's actions.  Keeping this in mind, I will say that I believe Red Joan will to appeal to historical fiction readers interested in the aftermath of WWII, as well as the start of the Cold War. 

Note: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday: A Question of Honor by Charles Todd

It's time for Waiting on Wednesday, a weekly meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine that spotlights books we are eagerly anticipating the release of.

I've not participated in this weekly meme in a loooong time, but since there are a lot of great books soon to be released that I can't wait to get my hands on I figured now would be a great time to take part once again.

This week I'm eagerly awaiting the release of:

A Question of Honor by Charles Todd
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Publisher: William Morrow

Synopsis (From

In the latest mystery from New York Times bestselling author Charles Todd, World War I nurse and amateur sleuth Bess Crawford investigates an old murder that occurred during her childhood in India, a search for the truth that will transform her and leave her pondering a troubling question: How can facts lie?

Bess Crawford enjoyed a wondrous childhood in India, where her father, a colonel in the British Army, was stationed on the Northwest Frontier. But an unforgettable incident darkened that happy time. In 1908, Colonel Crawford's regiment discovered that it had a murderer in its ranks, an officer who killed five people in India and England yet was never brought to trial. In the eyes of many of these soldiers, men defined by honor and duty, the crime was a stain on the regiment's reputation and on the good name of Bess's father, the Colonel Sahib, who had trained the killer.

A decade later, tending to the wounded on the battlefields of France during World War I, Bess learns from a dying Indian sergeant that the supposed murderer, Lieutenant Wade, is alive—and serving at the Front. Bess cannot believe the shocking news. According to reliable reports, Wade's body had been seen deep in the Khyber Pass, where he had died trying to reach Afghanistan. Soon, though, her mind is racing. How had he escaped from India? What had driven a good man to murder in cold blood?

Wanting answers, she uses her leave to investigate. In the village where the first three killings took place, she discovers that the locals are certain that the British soldier was innocent. Yet the present owner of the house where the crime was committed believes otherwise, and is convinced that Bess's father helped Wade flee. To settle the matter once and for all, Bess sets out to find Wade and let the courts decide.

But when she stumbles on the horrific truth, something that even the famous writer Rudyard Kipling had kept secret all his life, she is shaken to her very core. The facts will damn Wade even as they reveal a brutal reality, a reality that could have been her own fate.

Is anyone else looking forward to reading this one?   Todd's Bess Crawford series is one of my favourites.  

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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Suddenly Sunday

It's time for Suddenly Sunday, a weekly meme hosted by Svea at Muse in the Fog that gives bloggers the opportunity to highlight their key blogging activities from the past week. 

Happy Sunday!  I hope everyone had a great week and is enjoying the summer.   I spent last week on holidays at the cottage.  While I wasn't able to post here or comment on other blogs (a situation I plan to remedy now that I'm back home) I did get lots and lots of reading done :-) 

Here's a list the books I read last week:

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan;
Inferno by Dan Brown;
Torn and Ascend by Amanda Hocking (Books Two and Three of the Trylle Trilogy); and
Blameless by Gail Carriger.

Since I was on vacation I decided to go with books from my own TBR pile rather than review books so I won't be posting reviews for any of the above novels.  

Looking ahead, August is so far shaping up to be a great reading month.  I'm participating in Austen in August hosted by Roof Beam Reader, and have reviews scheduled for a couple of books I'm really excited about.  

Is anyone reading anything fabulous right now?  If so, I'd love to hear about it. 

Have a great week!

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