Friday, April 28, 2017

Review | The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence: A Story of Botticelli by Alyssa Palombo

The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence: A Story of Botticelli by Alyssa Palombo
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on April 25th, 2017
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance, Adult
Pages: 320
Format: paperback arc 
Source: Requested by publisher

Summary from Goodreads: 
A girl as beautiful as Simonetta Cattaneo never wants for marriage proposals in 15th Century Italy, but she jumps at the chance to marry Marco Vespucci. Marco is young, handsome and well-educated. Not to mention he is one of the powerful Medici family’s favored circle.

Even before her marriage with Marco is set, Simonetta is swept up into Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici’s glittering circle of politicians, poets, artists, and philosophers. The men of Florence―most notably the rakish Giuliano de’ Medici―become enthralled with her beauty. That she is educated and an ardent reader of poetry makes her more desirable and fashionable still. But it is her acquaintance with a young painter, Sandro Botticelli, which strikes her heart most. Botticelli immediately invites Simonetta, newly proclaimed the most beautiful woman in Florence, to pose for him. As Simonetta learns to navigate her marriage, her place in Florentine society, and the politics of beauty and desire, she and Botticelli develop a passionate intimacy, one that leads to her immortalization in his masterpiece, The Birth of Venus.

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The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence: A Story of Botticelli introduces us to Simonetta Vespucci, a woman who may have inspired Botticelli's most famous work of art, the Birth of Venus. When

Simonetta Cattaneo is the beautiful daughter of a noble man, allowed to learn the basics of reading and writing. Though she is not allowed to further her education, she yearns for more. So when handsome Marco Vespucci comes with the promise of a grand life in Florence, overflowing with art, poetry, and literature, Simonetta accepts his offer. She marries Marco Vespucci and is brought to Florence where she finds herself in the centre of one of the most influential social circles of their time, run by the Medici brothers. Soon all of Florence is enraptured by the idea of her - her beauty, fashion, charm, intelligence, and more. She soon finds herself catching the eye of up-and-coming artist Sandra Botticelli. Moved by Simonetta's inner and outer beauty, Botticelli becomes fascinated and begins to paint her over and over, making her the inspiration and centre of his most famous works. Facing men vieing for her attention, jealousy and envy from others, problems with her marriage, and bouts of ill health, Simonetta seizes the chance to sit for Botticelli again. As relationship between artist and muse becomes blurred and forbidden passion takes over, they will soon face fate and the tragedy that will unfold. 

Not only do I love Florence, and am a historical fiction fan, but I also have a great appreciation for the Renaissance period (art, structures/buildings, clothing, etc.). The author, Alyssa Palombo, does a good job in establishing the historical and physical setting. Florence felt real and alive, as if I were there walking the streets alongside Simonetta. Palombo found a way to breath life into Renaissance Florence in this book and make it feel alive with the art, politics, religion, marriage, structures, themes, and more. The exploration of the Renaissance time period was done in such an entertaining way that I couldn't help but find myself captivated by the characters and the time period. 

I also really liked the way the author took real characters and expanded their stories in this book. Even though I knew a majority of these characters (from History courses), I still felt like I learned much more about them in this book. And even though I have never heard of Simonetta Vespucci before reading this book, I can definitely say that I am fascinated by her and want to know more about her. 

Though the story is character-driven, it deals with much more deeper themes of that time - the exploration of what it means to be a wife and the most beautiful in Renaissance Florence. Even though we don't know if Simonetta was the inspiration behind the Birth of Venus or if Botticelli did really use her as a model for his other portraits, this novel was still beautifully breathtaking and made me fall for Renaissance Florence and feel for the characters in it. I can not state whether or not she was the inspiration, but I can say that I found Alyssa Palombo's depiction of the relationship between both artist and muse to be highly plausible, especially after reading the author's note. 

Overall, this was a great book to read. It was such a gripping, engaging, and emotional story. If you are a fan of historical fiction, have a love for art history, are interested in the Renaissance period, or just looking for a quick and engaging book to read, then I recommend you check this book out. 


About The Author:
ALYSSA PALOMBO is also the author of The Violinist of Venice. She has published short fiction pieces in Black Lantern Magazine and The Great Lakes Review. She is a recent graduate of Canisius College with degrees in English and creative writing, respectively.  A passionate music lover, she is a classically trained musician as well as a big fan of heavy metal. The Violinist of Venice is her first novel. She lives in Buffalo, New York.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Release Day Blitz | Dark Alpha's Lover by Donna Grant

Dark Alpha's Lover
by Donna Grant
Genres: Romance, Fantasy, Suspense
Series: Reaper - Book Four
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on April 18th, 2017

Summary from Goodreads: 
There is no escaping a Reaper. I am an elite assassin, part of a brotherhood that only answers to Death. And when Death says your time is up, I am coming for you...

I answer to no one but Death. I am impenetrable, impervious, immortal. I exist to do Death's bidding and no one--not Reaper nor human nor Fae--can stand in my way. Except for the bewitching half-Fae, Catriona. She swears the magic in her family passed her by, but I know better. This woman is strong. This woman is powerful. And when her abilities surge forth, no one will be able to stop the Dark Fae from coming for her. Except for me. I want to keep her close. I want to keep her safe. I want lose myself to her, again and again...
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About The Author:

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Donna Grant has been praised for her “totally addictive” and “unique and sensual” stories. She’s the author of more than thirty novels spanning multiple genres of romance including the bestselling Dark King stories. The acclaimed series features a thrilling combination of dragons, the Fae, and Highlanders who are dark, dangerous, and irresistible. She lives with her two children, a dog, and four cats in Texas.

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Chapter One

Galway, Ireland

Nothing was ever as it seemed.

There were more than humans walking this earth. The things seen out of the corner of your eye were real, even if your mind refused to recognize - or accept - them. 

But Catriona Hayes knew of their existence, even if she wished she didn't. They were Fae. Magical creatures that were so beautiful they seemed otherworldly - because they were. 

The Fae had come to this world, seamlessly integrating themselves into the lives of mortals. But then again, when it came to begins with magic, they could do such things. 

Cat blew out a breath and put the day's earnings in the pouch before placing it inside the safe and shutting the door. She straightened and looked through the windows of the café and across the street to the pub alight with merriment. 

There was a bit of wistfulness within her when she spotted three women walking into the bar with bright smiles. She'd never been that carefree. 

From the first moment she could remember, her family had kept her apart from others. It wasn't until she was older that she realized what made her so different - she was a Halfling. 

Part human, part Fae. 

Some might rejoice at the news, but she wasn't most people. 

The first time her grandfather had told her of her heritage, she'd laughed, thinking it was a jest. But as they'd walked down the streets of Galway, he began pointing out the Fae.

That was the day her life changed. At eight years old, she'd felt the weight of the world drop upon her shoulders. The burden had nearly brought her to her knees. And it hand lingered, growing heavier with each passing year. 

Yet she remained standing beneath it all. Only because of her grandfather. The man who smiled in the midst of the many storms life threw his way. He was what kept her composed and mindful of the dangers of living near Fae. 

While she had been fearful of her grandfather's revelation, her older siblings had embraced it as a gift. 

Cat looked down at the counter and the top that covered it. Beneath the thick glass, next to the register, was picture of her with her brother and sister twenty years ago.

Whatever gift having Fae blood had given her siblings had been taken away in a cruel twist of Fate several months ago when they were savagely killed. 

Her brother had been murdered in a crowded pub, while her sister had had her life snuffed out on a train to London. No one had seen either attack. One moment, her siblings had been alive. The next, they were dead. It was how Cat knew the Fae were responsible. 

Only beings with magic and ability to veil themselves could have committed such crimes without a single person catching something on their mobile phones.

Every since her family's deaths, she'd been waiting for the Fae to come for her.

What was taking them so long? She and her grandfather - who kept locked safely away in his cottage where no Fae could enter - were the only ones left. 

A flash of lightning pulled her from her thoughts and reminded her that she needed to get home. She started toward the front, turning off the lights as she went. Flipping the sign in the café windows to CLOSED, she walked out the door and locked it. 

When she faced the street once more, she gripped the handle of her purse and looked around at the people. She knew the Fae could use glamour to disguise themselves, though most preferred to remain beautiful. That made it easier to pick them out, but it did nothing to lessen Cat's dread.

She remained in the doorway as a couple walked past her. The man said something to make the woman laugh. Cat's heart caught because she couldn't remember the last time she'd giggled like that - never mind actually being on a date. 

Cat squared her shoulders and turned to the left. Her cottage was toward the outskirts of Galway. She couldn't wait to get home where she could relax. 

"Relax," she snorted. 

There was no such thing for her. While others brushed their cares away with a pint of ale and loud music, she would ear alone at her house and sleep with one eye open. 

Being half-Fae had done nothing but make her life miserable. She'd gotten nothing else from it. Her sister, Nora, had been able to move objects with her mind. Her brother, Domhnall, could grow plants. 

For some strange reason, magic had passed her over altogether. No matter how hard she tried, there didn't seem to be a smidgen of magic within her.

Countless times, she'd asked her grandfather what she'd done to not have magic. He'd never quite answered her. In his usual way, he would tell a story about all the Halflings who lived without magic.

But she always suspected that he was keeping something from her. 

No amount of conniving or posing the question different ways ever gave her another answer, though. With every year that passed, she was more and more sure that her grandfather was hiding something. 

Cat tensed when she walked past a Fae talking to a mortal female. His silver eyes, black hair, and sex appeal were the biggest clues to what he was - Light Fae. At least, it wasn't a Dark. The 

Dark scared her the most with their red eyes. She shuddered just thinking about them. 

She turned the corner and quickened her pace. Thunder rumbled the same time lightning zigzagged across the sky. More rain was on the way, but if she were lucky, she'd make it back to her cottage before it came. 

Suddenly, she stopped. She didn't know what had caught her attention, but something told her to go no farther. Her gaze roamed down the street as people milled about. 

There was something in the air that draped over everything like a wet blanket. It took her a moment to realize what it was - fear. She looked at the humans and saw that none of them appeared to be affected. 

Then she heard the footsteps coming, quickly. She saw the man running toward her and looking back over his shoulder. He passed beneath a streetlamp, and she saw his eyes - red. 

But it was the terror on his face that surprised her. She hadn't thought there was anything a Dark feared, but whatever was after this particular Fae must be frightening. 

Her head told her to run, but her body refused to move. She remained where she was, even as a man appeared out of thin air in front of the Dark. 

The Fae slid to a halt, his eyes wide. The man before him had long, white hair that was pulled away from his face by three small braids on each side of his head. 

She had little time to process that before she saw the light glint off a blade. The sword sliced through the air and cut down the Dark, turning him to dust in an instant. 

Shock reverberated through her as she involuntarily took a step back. What kind of weapon did he have that could kill a Fae? 

Because she wanted one. 

He took two steps away before he suddenly halted, his body stiffening. Then he gradually turned his head to look right at her. She couldn't make out his face because of the shadows, but she knew he'd seen her. 

And then, he disappeared. 

She took another step back and hastily looked around, but there was no other sign of the white-haired man. Yet she knew she wasn't alone. 

He was there. She was sure of it. Just as she was sure the Fae would come for her soon. 

Somehow, she managed to stand her ground. If she were going to die, she would do it with courage. Even if she was shaking. She wasn't going to run, no matter how much she wanted to. 

She felt something behind her a moment before the sound of footsteps reached her. Cat whirled around, ready to face the unknown stranger. But it was a Dark Fae, who walked toward her. 

"Shite," she murmured and turned back around. 

"Hiya, darlin'," the Dark called. "What's your hurry?" 

She walked faster and said over her shoulder, "Long day." 

"Let me buy you a drink." 

"No, thanks." 

She waited for him to say more, and when he didn't, she gave a sigh of relief. It wasn't until she was in her cottage that she slumped against the door. 

Another day gone.

 Copyright © 2017 by Donna Grant and reprinted by permission of Swerve.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Review I To Catch a Killer by Sheryl Scarborough

To Catch a Killer by Sheryl Scarborough 
Published by Clarion Books on Feburary 7th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: Kindly provided by publisher

Summary from Goodreads: 
Erin Blake has one of those names. A name that, like Natalee Holloway or Elizabeth Smart, is inextricably linked to a grisly crime. As a toddler, Erin survived for three days alongside the corpse of her murdered mother, and the case—which remains unsolved—fascinated a nation. Her father's identity unknown, Erin was taken in by her mother's best friend and has become a relatively normal teen in spite of the looming questions about her past.

Fourteen years later, Erin is once again at the center of a brutal homicide when she finds the body of her biology teacher. When questioned by the police, Erin tells almost the whole truth, but never voices her suspicions that her mother's killer has struck again in order to protect the casework she's secretly doing on her own.

Inspired by her uncle, an FBI agent, Erin has ramped up her forensic hobby into a full-blown cold-case investigation. This new murder makes her certain she's close to the truth, but when all the evidence starts to point the authorities straight to Erin, she turns to her longtime crush (and fellow suspect) Journey Michaels to help her crack the case before it's too late.

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To Catch a Killer was such a fun book to read! 

Since I was a little girl, I always liked mystery. So when To Catch a Killer showed up at my door, I was so excited to begin reading. I don't even know where to begin with this review, since there is so many things I liked about this book. 

Erin was such an interesting character. I absolutely adored reading about her and her adventures. The plot was unique and intriguing that it kept me on the edge of my seat wanting to read more and find out what happens next. I also enjoyed the fact that this book featured a lot of forensic science. 

Her friends were such a blast to read, I adored every single side character in the book. What made it even more enjoyable was that every single character had their own voice, they all had distinct personalities and traits of their own. I loved the friendship between Erin, Spam, and Lisa as well as Erin's relationship with her mother's friend, Rachel, who took her in after her mother's death. It was so heartwarming to see Erin's relationships with those closest to her develop as they try to solve this well crafted mystery. 

The only thing I didn't really like was the insta-love. I'm not going to spoil it but if you pick up the book, you will know what I'm talking about. Something that I didn't necessarily like but didn't really bother me (as much as the insta-love) was the fact that I knew who the killer was from chapter five. Yep. It was a bit predictable but nonetheless enjoyable. 

In the end, this was such an enjoyable book to read. I loved every second of it. If you like CSI, Veronica Mars, or are a fan of mystery, I highly suggest you pick this book up if you haven't already. 


About The Author:
SHERYL SCARBOROUGH is an award-winning writer for children's television. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, lives in Washington states, and has always had an obsession with forensics. When she was twelve, her home was a target of a Pepping Tom. Sheryl diligently photographed his footprints and collected the candy wrappers he left behind. Unfortunately, he was never caught. But the desire to use evidence to solve a great mystery was sparked inside Scarborough all the same. To Catch a Killer is her debut. 

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