The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau

The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau
Published by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Hey, remember a year ago when I was pregnant with twins and so sick that I could barely read anything except Agatha Christie, and then I picked up Nancy Bilyeau’s debut novel and I read it like I wasn’t even sick? And then even though I read it in January it was still in my brain enough that I included it in my ‘Best of’ list for 2012?

Yeah, so, her The Chalice lives up to the promise of its older sibling, The Crown.

This year when it came time to read The Chalice I was in the middle of a work-induced reading slump and then I started it and read the whole 500 or so pages in 24 hours. 24!

The Chalice has great pace with characters that are just as engaging as they were in The Crown. I love that Bilyeau has found somewhere new to go with the Tudor time period and I just love the way she writes historical thrillers, combining flawlessly the best parts of both genres. If you like history, pick up Bilyeau’s The Crown and have The Chalice erady to go to follow it up.

If you want to know more about The Chalice, here’s the publisher’s description:

In 1538, England’s bloody power struggle between crown and cross threatens to tear the country apart. Novice Joanna Stafford has tasted the wrath of the royal court, discovered what lies within the king’s torture rooms, and escaped death at the hands of those desperate to possess the power of an ancient relic.

Even with all she has experienced, the quiet life is not for Joanna. Despite the possibilities of arrest and imprisonment, she becomes caught up in a shadowy international plot targeting Henry VIII himself. As the power plays turn vicious, Joanna realizes her role is more critical than she’d ever imagined. She must choose between those she loves most and assuming her part in a prophecy foretold by three seers. Repelled by violence, Joanna seizes a future with a man who loves her. But no matter how hard she tries, she cannot escape the spreading darkness of her destiny.

To learn the final, sinister piece of the prophecy, she flees across Europe with a corrupt spy sent by Spain. As she completes the puzzle in the dungeon of a twelfth-century Belgian fortress, Joanna realizes the life of Henry VIII as well as the future of Christendom are in her hands—hands that must someday hold the chalice that lies at the center of these deadly prophecies. . . .

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
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Jack 1939 by Francine Mathews – Book Review

Jack 1939 by Francine Mathews
Published by Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin

At the beginning of 1939 Jack Kennedy is a 22 year old Harvard student, FDR is in his second term as president, and Hitler is preparing to change the face of Europe. Although he is frequently ill, Jack plans to travel across Europe for his senior thesis during the spring semester – he isn’t about to let either Hitler or his own body stop him. For FDR, Jack represents the perfect opportunity: he is a smart and savvy young man with a reason to talk to nearly anyone in Europe and a diplomatic passport, thanks to the fact that his father, Joe Kennedy, is the US ambassador to England. Since the US has no spy service in 1939, FDR is handpicking a few select men to help keep him informed on what is happening in Europe. He recruits Jack, who quickly finds himself much more personally embroiled in what he is investigating than he could have ever expected.

John F. Kennedy is a figure who continues to loom large in the American psyche, but primarily as an adult who would be president, and less as a young man still in school. The existence of his university thesis, Why England Slept, which chronicled England’s failure to stop Hitler, is fairly well known, but I personally had no knowledge of his journey across Europe just as Hitler was beginning to launch what would become World War II.

Mathews’s version of Jack’s trip across the continent mostly follows his real itinerary, although some creative license is taken to fit her storyline. The story Mathews concocts to go along with Jack’s travels is both interesting and exciting. Jack is caught up in espionage and both he and his family are being threatened by an extremely dangerous man, a Nazi. The stakes couldn’t be higher – Jack’s life, family, and country are all in danger – and the tension keeps the pages turning.

Jack 1939 is an extremely engaging historical thriller, made all the more engaging for being set against a backdrop of real events

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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The Truth of All Things by Kieran Shields – Book Review

The Truth of All Things by Kieran Shields
Published by Crown, an imprint of Random House

It is 1892, and a prostitute has been found murdered in Portland, Maine. This is no ordinary murder, however. The woman is laid out in a pentagram with a pitchfork through her neck – a method of killing sometimes used to make sure a witch is truly dead. This sort of sensational murder is not good for a town, so the mayor puts Deputy Marshal Archie Lean in charge of the investigation. Lean can’t do this job alone, though, it takes criminologist Percival Grey and eventually local historian Helen Prescott to help him begin to unravel the mystery behind this and other killings. The are an unlikely bunch, what with Helen’s gender and Grey’s half-Indian heritage – a real liability in late 19th-century Portland, especially as the murderer left a message in the Abenaki language next to the body.

The Truth of All Things gets off to a very strong start, beginning right away with the gruesome murder and the quick introduction of the fascinating  Sherlock-esque Percival Grey. Grey comes in and begins making deductions and seeing things that others would miss. Before long, Grey and Lean strike up a antagonistic yet friendly working relationship that has a good chemistry and would bode well for a partnership that could go beyond this one novel.

However, despite the compelling beginning and an interesting twist relating these murders to the Salem witch trials two hundred years earlier, The Truth of All Things eventually begins to falter. Shields sets up the plot with some sense of urgency, but it simply doesn’t come across in a way that compels the reader to keep turning the pages. There was never a question of not finishing it, but the pace definitely slowed in the second half of the novel.

As it is a first novel, I do think that The Truth of All Things is strong enough that I would read Shields’s future work, but it isn’t one I would recommend running out and buying immediately.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, via Edelweiss.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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The Map of Time by Felix J Palma – Audiobook Review

The Map of Time by Felix J Palma, translated by Nick Caistor, narrated by James Langton
Published in audio by Simon & Schuster Audio, published in print by Atria Books, both imprints of Simon & Schuster


After H.G. Wells publishes The Time Machine, the idea of time travel becomes all the rage in Victorian London, giving rise to, among other things, hopes of a better world and time tourism. Unsurprisingly, H.G. Wells finds himself in the middle of all of these plots and dreams, even if not always willingly. In The Map of Time, Palma weaves together three highly interrelated plots of time travel and the way it affects the lives of those involved, beginning with a man whose lover was murdered by Jack the Ripper, and who simply can’t bear to continue living in a world without her.

Thoughts on the story:

In the first section of the book in particular, the characters involved tend to go on expository flights of fancy. Far more of this section is exposition than any actual movement of plot. However, I begrudgingly admit that the information was more or less pertinent and interesting, and in such a long book, conveying it in a manner less resembling an info dump would have been space prohibitive. What is more important is that Palma created three novel-length stories that intertwine beautifully, all with Wells and time travel in the middle.

At times I wondered if all should really have been put together into a single book, but all depended on one another to such an extent that I was unable to decide whether they were even separate stories at all and can’t help but agree with the decision to keep them in a single volume. The most remarkable thing, is how quickly Palma was able to re-engage me each time we transitioned to a new section of the story. Part of this was the continuity with Wells, but part is also simply his gift for creating characters who are instantly interesting.

Thoughts on the audio production:

One potential downfall of audiobooks is that when things get boring, you cannot simply skim. With the tendencies that Palma’s characters had towards excessive exposition, I was afraid that this might be a serious problem. Instead, Langton’s extremely able narration kept things going. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t space out a bit during some of the extra-long histories of time travel, but Langton always kept me wanting to come back. For more complete thoughts on the audio production, please see my Audiofile Magazine review.


An incredibly entertaining and engaging read or listen.

Buy this book from: Powells: Print* Indiebound: Print*

I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

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* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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