Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Ladies of Ivy Cottage

The Ladies of Ivy Cottage (Tales from Ivy Hill #2)
By Julie Klassen

After her father's death and the transfer of his estate to a male relative, Nicholas Ashford, Rachel Ashford has moved into the home of her friend Mercy Grove and Mercy's spinster aunt Matty. While she has helped with the school that Mercy and Matty run for girls, Rachel needs to find a way to support herself. With the encouragement of her friends as well as other women in the town, Rachel decides to open a subscription library with books she inherited from her father and donated books from the townspeople. As she works to get her library up and running, Rachel stumbles upon a couple of mysteries that she sets out to solve--and finds that doing so brings her in close contact with the man who broke her heart years ago. Mercy Grove wants nothing more than to expand her school; she loves her girls and her work. When the great-grandfather of one of her pupils wants to make her the child's guardian, Mercy happily accepts. However, when she tells her parents the news, they come to visit--bringing a potential suitor with them. While he might suit her in some ways, Mercy finds herself more interested in the carpenter who donated his services to install shelves in Rachel's library...but she doesn't think he returns her regard. She must figure out which path is the right one for her. Things are running well at Jane Bell's inn, and James Drake, who is establishing an inn of his own nearby, is attentive and charming, but she wonders what his true motives are and finds herself longing for the company of a different man--but she doesn't know if she'll ever see him again. I thought this book was charming. I wish I could jump into the story and visit Ivy Hill and all the characters. Ivy Hill just seems so charming, and I'm just in love with the delightful setting. I also loved the characters; I was swept up in their stories and really wanted to see how things would play out for them. I felt like they were well-developed and it was easy to empathize with their worries and fears. I will say I wish there had been more of a resolution for one character in particular--but that is just a reflection of how much I enjoyed the book, not a criticism of the way it was written. I can't wait for the third book in the series! I actually like this series more than any of Julie Klassen's other books. I read a copy via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Nyxia

Nyxia by Scott Reintgen

Emmett and nine other teenagers have been selected by Babel Communications to travel to Eden, a distant planet, and mine nyxia, a substance that can be changed and manipulated and is secretly the most valuable resource in the world. Nyxia is found in abundance on Eden, but the species that inhabits the planet destroys anyone who tries to get it--except children. Thus, Babel Communications has requited these teenagers to be the ones who mine nyxia. As they journey toward Eden, they are pitted in competitions against one another, as Babel Communications reveals that only eight of the ten will be chosen to go to Eden--and receive the billions of dollars that are the reward for making the cut. As Emmett competes, he makes friends with some of the recruits, enemies of others, and comes to suspect that there's a whole lot that Babel Communications isn't telling them. Although not making the final cut isn't an option for him, the twists and turns that turn up make it difficult for Emmett to know if he'll truly make it--or what Babel Communications really wants.


I was instantly drawn into this book. The plot is interesting and moves forward quickly, and I loved Emmett and the other characters (okay, some of them I disliked, but those were the ones you were sort of supposed to not be so fond of). There are really interesting themes, too, such as what you're willing to do for a chance at a dream--who are you willing to become or not become as you fight for that chance? There's a look at humanity and mercy and friendship. There's a lot to enjoy in this book, and I can't wait for the next one in the series!
4.5 stars.


Okay, I'm afraid by the time I get to read the second book in this series, I'll have forgotten pertinent details, so I'm putting a summary--with spoilers--of all of it down here. So, don't read any farther if you don't want spoilers! If you want a summary of who's who and what happens, read on.
Babel Communications recruits a bunch of poor, broken kids for a secret mission. They've discovered a planet, Eden, with an extremely valuable substance, Nyxia, which they'd like to mine but the native species of Eden, humanoids called Adamites, destroy all who they encounter--except children. There was a child, Jacquelyn Requin, a young girl who was born on the original flight to Eden, who was spared in an assault; all the others of the party were killed; at the beginning of the book Defoe (the head of Babel) says their satellites indicate she is still alive (I'm assuming she's the daughter of one of the other Babel big-wigs, David Requin, and we'll find out more about that in the next book) and that the Adamites revere children, especially since it seems they can no longer reproduce and the youngest of their own species is 21.
Emmett and the others sign their contracts, get on their spaceship, Genesis 11, and head out into space. They have to compete against each other in things like combat, manipulation of nyxia, and more, to determine which eight of them will go to Eden. There are team competitions and individual competitions.
These are the ten competitors:
Emmett--black kid from Detroit, uses music to manage his emotions; he worries about losing his humanity as he competes and wonders what Babel isn't telling them; his mom needs a kidney transplant and winning this competition will make sure she gets the best medical care out there and that his dad can stop busting his back getting nowhere
Kaya--Japanese, a strategist; Emmett's ally and suite-mate; they quickly become friends and he thinks of her like a sister; she was abandoned by her family and she sees colors/auras around each person
Roathy--perhaps the most damaged of all of them, he and Emmett become enemies when Emmett injures him in a combat competition; Emmett didn't mean to, but Roathy and his partner Isadora aren't forgiving and are determined to get revenge
Isadora--Brazilian, secretive and angry; is determined that Roathy will make it to Eden with her, no matter what she has to do to get him there (we don't really get to know much about her beyond that; I'm assuming we will in the next book)
Longwei--Asian, a loner and the highest scorer in their competition; he and Emmett don't hit it off but they do occasionally work together when they're on the same team and have to; has a chip on his shoulder
Jamie--Swiss, farm boy; Emmett initially thinks he's not really poor like the rest of them and is a jerk to him but comes to realize he was wrong; Jamie is competent at everything but excels at nothing
Azima--African, besides winning, she also wants to find a man strong enough to marry her
Jazzy--American, friendly, her main strength is staying calm
Katsu--Japanese, jokester, solid competitor
Bilal--Palestinian, the sweetest of the bunch; he's kind to everyone and even forgives Longwei when he intentionally/unnecessarily breaks his leg; he becomes like a brother to Emmett.

Emmett makes a lot of enemies--he and Longwei instantly dislike each other; when he injures Roathy, he makes an enemy of both him and Isadora. He initially offends Jamie. Kaya approaches him with the offer to be allies, which he accepts--and which he needs in order to stay human and not be too swept up in the competition. He also needs Bilal's friendship and goodness.

Down on earth, a reporter has published an article about Babel and their mission and the contestants, which Babel doesn't want the teens to know about or access. (Emmett realizes they use technology to scramble the airwaves when his dad is trying to talk to him about it.)

Kaya and Emmett's doctor (each pair has a doctor assigned to them) is Vandemeer, and he said he chose Emmett and Kaya because he believed in them. Roathy and Isadora's doctor, Karpinski, tries to kill Emmett because Roathy and Isadora told him to, and Emmett is allowed to kill him or forgive him; he forgives him. (In one of their simulated fights, he put a real sword in so that Jamie really cuts Emmett open.) Defoe cuts off one of Karpinski's ears.

Emmett swipes Vandemeer's extra access pass and he and Kaya explore the ship. Kaya is determined to figure out how to make it through a certain door; when she finally figures it out, Emmett doesn't want to go with her but he does. They go to a part of the ship where there is no nyxia--and find an Adamite, strapped down, blindfolded, and clearly having been tutored. He, not realizing it's a child (teen) near him, is able to manipulate the nyxia that Kaya is wearing and kills her. Emmett is forbidden to tell any of the others how she died. Defoe tells Emmett that the Adamite, Erone, was removed from the ship (but I don't know if that's actually true).

There's a chapter where we see Defoe videocalling with colleagues, discussing the problem with the newspaper article about their mission, which is very accurate and Defoe thinks there was probably a leak in the company. Defoe and Requin talk about making a bet about who will end up being the commander of the mission; Defoe says he won't take the best until he can find the aces he normally keeps up his sleeves. He also tells Rquin that Erone killed Kaya. Requin tells him to be more careful and "If he'd managed to overcome you, he would have torn the ship to pieces." Defoe responds, "Knowing Erone, he would have followed the flight pattern back so that he could tear your ship to pieces. He's fond of me. He hates you." Requin says, "Well, I did abduct him." (p. 233).

Defoe announces that with Kaya's death, the remaining three girls are guaranteed spots on Eden. This leads to Isadora intentionally throwing competitions to help Roathy, since she is guaranteed a spot.

Longwei injures Bilal; Emmett is furious about his cheap shot and attacks Longwei. Bilal's leg is broken and he can't compete in some of the competitions.

They arrive at the Tower Space Station, where they find out that Babel has a whole other set of recruits--10 teens who have been on Genesis 12 with Requin--and that the two teams will compete against each other twice a day on the Waterway, plus there will be individual combat competitions, and only the top fifteen will get to go to Eden--but the girls are all guaranteed spots. The other group works together as a team, and their leader, Morning, is way better at the competitions and strategy and manipulating Nyxia than any of the Genesis 11 kids. She and Emmett are attracted to each other, but she has promised her team she'll get them all on Eden; Emmett wants to win a spot, but his team loses, time and time again, to Morning's team; Emmett was initially the captain but th
Morning and Emmett talk; he tells her what happened to Kaya and she tells him one of her guys, Anton, got the Babel Files article and that they're wondering if something bigger is going on. She tells Anton permission to get more info (but we don't see what that info is or if he gets it)

Roathy and Isadora corner Emmett and try to hurt him when he's unarmed so Roathy will make it onto Eden; he has a hidden bit of nyxia that pretty much takes over and absorbs Roathy's nyxia and hurts Roathy. Emmett is safe from them, but freaked out because the nyxia manipulated him. Defoe seems to want Emmett to punish them--to kill them with the sword he could've used on Karpinski--but he doesn't. Vandemeer tells him he doesn't trust Babel anymore and that Emmett will be safer if they can get him to Eden.

It finally comes down to Bilal and Emmett and Loche (from 12) fighting for the final spot; in order for Emmett to go, he has to win his individual combat, Bilal has to lose his, Loche has to lose to Longwei, and 11 has to beat 12 in a Waterway competition. Defoe tells Emmett to change things up, to think like Kaya did and change how the game works; he says he's telling Emmett that because Emmett reminds him of himself and that he will work hard, whereas Loche will treat it like a vacation. All four things happen, so Emmett makes it.
Vandemeer gives him a nyxian charger he made for his mp3 player; Emmett gives him a copy of a photo of him and Kaya together. He wants to find Bilal to say good-bye but can't; Bilal leaves him a note--"Babel says I will be given another chance. I'm not sure what it will be, but perhaps I'll see you on Eden after all."
Emmett gets his key to his pod and heads to it to depart; while he's waiting to go, Morning tells him she wanted him to make it but she's still mad about what he pulled to win (he pulled her out of her boat so her team had to compete without her). Karpinski tries to talk to him--to tell him "he's waiting for you. I don't know why, but he's waiting for you." When Emmett goes to his station, he finds Roathy there. Roathy explains the four losers all have a second chance--each of them was allowed to fight one person for their spot on Eden. Roathy says that whoever doesn't win the fight will be sucked out into space. Again, Emmett's nyxia helps protect him. He uses it to create an air lock so Roathy won't get sucked out into space. Emmett leaves in his pod, wondering what happened with Bilal, and sees Isadora waiting in her pod, hoping to see Roathy. And then Emmett heads out into space.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

A Grand Tour

A Grand Tour

A Lord's Chance by Anthea Lawson
Isabelle Strathmore, having been on the receiving end of heartbreak, will never fall in love again. Instead, she'll travel and see the world and keep her heart to herself. Gavin Reed, having been pursued by too many fortune hunters, is wary of women. Neither is expecting to fall for someone, and yet, as they spend time together on their Mediterranean cruise, they are drawn to each other.
This was an enjoyable story. I liked seeing Isabelle and Gavin overcome their reservations about the opposite sex. I also really liked seeing how Gavin went from disdainful to romantic.

Falling in Rome by Jennifer Moore
Eleanor Doyle is chaperoning two sisters on their grand tour; if she can successfully keep them out of trouble, their father will ensure a research position at a London university. In Rome, they meet Russell Kendrick, a professor, and his three students. While Eleanor enjoys Ken's company very much, one of her wards is overly interested in one of his students, and as much as Eleanor wants to help Ken as he uncovers Roman relics, she can't risk losing the position she has worked so hard for.
I loved seeing the romance in this book--especially since it had a lot to do with Eleanor's and Ken's intellectual compatibility. i also really liked the plot line of exploring and discovering Roman ruins.

A Secret Arrangement by Heather B. Moore
Henry Gaiman is engrossed in his archaeological work in Egypt and inheriting an estate when a distant uncle dies is a hindrance to his work, but he dutifully heads to England to make arrangements--including tracking down his uncle's widow to assure her that she will be able to keep her home. He's not prepared to meet his aunt's charge, Evelyn Tucker, freshly graduation from finishing school. Evelyn seems genuinely interested in Henry's work--and he finds himself interested in her. This was another great story. Again, I really enjoyed the archaeological aspect as well as the romance.

This was such a fun collection; I loved all three couples as well as the chance to see a bit of the Mediterranean, Rome, and Egypt. I've really enjoyed the Timeless Regency books and I'm excited that they've branched out into the Victorian era as well.

 I received a free copy from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Long Way Down

Long Way Down
By Jason Reynolds

When Will's older brother Shawn is shot and killed, Will knows the rules--no crying, no snitching, get revenge. And so, the next day, Will gets Shawn's gun and hops on the elevator in his apartment building, set on finding the guy he knows shot Shawn. However, over the course of the next 60 seconds, the elevator stops at each floor of the building, and each time, someone gets on--and in each case, it's someone Will cares about who has been shot to death, making him think about what he's on his way to do and how it has come about.

Dang. Wow. Holy cow.

This book is POWERFUL.

It's written in verse--I know some people don't care for novels in verse, but I like them and this one is amazing. Each word is perfect. I've never actually heard of Jason Reynolds before, and after reading this book, I realize I've totally been missing out because he is a phenomenally talented writer. There are so many beautiful crafted passages in this book. Here are a couple favorites:

"I felt like crying
which felt like
 another person
trapped behind my face

tiny fists punching
the backs of my eyes
feet kicking
my throat at the spot
where the swallow starts."

"Another thing about the rules
They weren't meant to be broken.
They were meant for the broken

to follow."

"How do you small-talk your father
when 'dad' is a language so foreign
that whenever you try to say it,
it feels like you got a third lip
 and a second tongue?"

"Spent my whole damn life
missing a misser.
That disappointed me."

The message of this book is so powerful. It captures an important theme and event that will resonate with a lot of readers but the idea of the ghosts from Will's past visit in the elevator is so unique and really packs a punch. This book easily makes my Best of 2017 list. 5 stars.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Sound of Rain

The Sound of Rain
By Sarah Loudin Thomas

After the mine he's working in collapses, injuring him and killing his younger brother Joe, Judd Markley can't bear to go back to mining. He leaves his home in West Virginia to go to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where he finds a job working for a timber company. When he first meets Larkin Heyward, his boss's daughter, he figures she's spoiled and shallow, but as he gets to know her better, he realizes there's more to her than a rich girl who likes dancing. Larkin has been volunteering at the local hospital, but she finds herself wanting to do more and decides to join her minister brother Ben in rural Kentucky to help the people there. As she comes to know Judd better, she's torn between her desire to help the people in Appalachia and her feelings for Judd, who doesn't want to leave his job working for Larkin's father. This book was delightful! I loved the setting; I was so drawn into the time period (it's set in 1954) and the locations. I've never been to West Virginia, South Carolina, or Kentucky, but Sarah Loudin Thomas made all of those places real for me with her descriptions. Beyond that, though, the characters just pulled me in. From the get go, I couldn't help but feel for Judd, who's a lost without his brother and has to figure out what the future has in store for him. I also liked seeing Larkin find her own strength. Secondary characters (like Granny Jane!) stole my heart as well. There were so many great themes, such as figuring out what actually matters in life, finding the path God wants for you, and living again after a loss, that most readers will be able to relate to.

I read a complimentary copy via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

4. 5 stars.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Holding the Fort

Holding the Fort by Regina Jennings (Fort Reno #1)

Dance hall singer Louisa Bell finds herself out of a job, and, not knowing what else to do, sets out for Fort Reno, where her brother Bradley serves in the cavalry--and has recently gotten into trouble with his commanding officer. Hoping she can find a job there, when she's mistaken for the governess Major Daniel Adams has sent away for, she doesn't correct the error. Instead, she accepts the job tutoring his two daughters as she tries to take Major Adams' measure and help Bradley get back into his good graces without arousing the major's suspicions. Daniel knows something isn't right with his governess--her story doesn't quite add up and she doesn't have the makings of a real governess--but he also finds that she might be exactly what he and his daughters need.

I've read and enjoyed several of Regina Jennings' books, but this one is easily my favorite. This is a charming historical romance. The characters were terrific, including secondary characters whom I'm hoping to see again later in the series. The story moves forward quickly and was just a lot of fun to read. Can't wait for the next book in the series! 4 stars.


 I received a complimentary copy of the book. All opinions are my own.

Out of the Ordinary

Out of the Ordinary by Jen Turano (Apart from the Crowd #2)

Gertrude Cadwalader is a companion to Mrs. Davenport, a society woman with a tendency to take things that don't belong to her--and then send Gertrude to return them. When Harrison Sinclair, a wealthy and handsome shipping tycoon, hosts an engagement party for his and Gertrude's mutual friends, Permilia Griswold and Asher Rutherford, Mrs. Davenport is up to her old tricks. When Gertrude has to return to Harrison's ship to set things to rights, his mother catches her and thinks that Gertrude is a thief. While Harrison is all too willing to believe in and even defend Gertrude, it soon becomes apparent that someone besides Mrs. Davenport is stealing things and that Mrs. Davenport's issues go deeper than Gertrude thought. As Gertrude and Harrison work together, Gertrude can't help falling for him, even though she knows that he's out of her league.

Jen Turano's books are always a hoot, guaranteed to make the reader laugh out loud, and this book was no exception. There were a few times when some of the behaviors of the characters seemed almost unbelievable, but the first book in the series helped set the tone for the absurdities of a colorful collection of eccentric characters. Harrison was a great romantic lead--handsome and kind and good--and willing to sneak a peak at his sisters' romance novels to try to understand women better. Gertrude's back story and how she ended a poor paid companion was so sad, and her determination to stand by her rather trying employer was admirable. The book is quirky and fun and another great read from Turano.
4 stars.

I read a copy via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.