Saturday, December 23, 2017

Ashes on the Moor

Ashes on the Moor by Sarah M. Eden

After the death of most of her family, Evangeline's aunt brings her to Smeatley, a factory town totally different from her previous home. Raised in the upper class, Evangeline now must work as a schoolteacher--despite having no experience and barely understanding the Yorkshire accent--if she is to prove herself worthy of the inheritance her grandfather has saved for her and, more importantly, to be reunited with her sister Lucy, who has been sent away to attend school elsewhere. Evangeline's aunt is cruel to her, refusing to acknowledge that they are related, constantly critical of all of Evangeline's efforts, and reluctant to give Evangeline anything that might help her succeed. Irish brick mason Dermot is the only other person she knows, and while he initially seems reluctant to speak to her any more than necessary, he comes to be her dearest friend and biggest support. Dermot's son, Ronan, is different from other children and Dermot is worried about how he'll do at school, but Evangeline seems to understand his needs and he thrives under her attention. As Evangeline tries to do her best for her students, she finds herself clashing with school administrators and must decide how to move forward if the school inspector demands she change her teaching style to the detriment of her students. Changing her style could help her efforts to be reunited with Lucy, but they could also alienate all of the students; refusing to change could cost her her job and force her to leave Smetley--and Dermot.

I absolutely loved this book. Sarah Eden is fantastic at writing snappy dialogue and incorporating humor, and I laughed so many times at Dermot's and Evangeline's interactions. Eden also does a great job at developing her characters, and I loved not only the main characters but also secondary characters. I really enjoyed the look at Victorian England and the working class--it was really interesting to learn about issues such as mill workers' housing and factory conditions in the context of the story. I also really enjoyed reading about the dialect differences and how the people of Smetley's language wasn't considered "proper" and how it was difficult for children to learn to read English that was spelled so differently from their own dialect. That was just a really interesting addition to the story--the type of addition that makes this book stand out from other historical romances. The romance is sweet, the characters are terrific, and I loved everything about the book. I've loved Sarah Eden's Regency books, but I'm excited about her venture into the Victorian Era and hope she'll be writing more books in this time period!

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

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 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.

Sunday, October 22, 2017


Warcross by Marie Lu 

Emika Chen is barely hanging on--orphaned years before, expelled from school, and with a criminal record, she doesn't have a whole lot of options. She's become a bounty hunter, finding those who gamble on Warcross, the virtual reality game that has exploded across the world. About to be evicted from her apartment, Emika does something crazy--she hacks into the opening game of the Warcross Championships and inadvertently shows her identity to the whole world. Afraid she's going to be arrested, instead, the develop of Warcross--Emika's idol--Hideo Tanaka flies her to Tokyo and gives her the chance to actually compete in the Warcross championship while helping Hideo to find someone else who has hacked into the game. As Emika looks for the hacker, Zero, she also has to keep him from figuring out she's looking for him, which proves tougher than she thought. 

Holy cow. This I wasn't sure if this was going to hold my interest--I don't play video games at all, virtual reality just weird to me, and I'm not a big sci-fi fan--but I devoured it. I tend to care a lot more about the characters in a story than the setting (which might explain why I don't like sci-fi that much--there has to be a lot of world-building and those details aren't that interesting to me, typically), but Marie Lu's descriptions of the technology and the game kept my interest (really, that's a BIG deal). Even with all the details, the story moved forward really quickly. Emika is the sort of protagonist that you can't help but cheer for--the underprivileged underdog who is way smart and can totally hold her own. I also enjoyed seeing her developing romance. Although I did guess one of the twists in the plot, I totally didn't anticipate the other one--which, for me, was the perfect balance because I want some surprises but being right about others makes me feel connected to the story. This was a thrilling, exciting read and I can't wait for the sequel! 4.5 stars.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Far from the Tree

Far from the Tree by Robin Benway

After giving up her baby for adoption, sixteen-year-old Grace finds herself interested in finding out more about her biological family. She discovers that she has an older brother, Joaquin, and a younger sister, Maya. She reaches out to them and finds that while they're willing to have a relationship with her, neither is interested in looking for their birth mother, something Grace feels driven to do. Maya, loud, strong-willed, and angry about her imploding home life, as her adoptive parents are separating and her adoptive mother's drinking is way out of control, is willing to let Grace and Joaquin in, but at the same time, she's pushing her adoptive family and her girlfriend away. Joaquin, unlike his sisters, wasn't adopted and has spent his life as a foster kid who knows how quickly he can be sent back. He doesn't blame anyone for that--he knows it's his fault--but as his current foster parents offer to adopt him, he can't let them do it, just like he couldn't let the girl he loved continue to be his girlfriend when she needed so much more than he has to offer.

I absolutely devoured this book! There's a LOT going on--teen pregnancy, tons of family issues, alcoholism, divorce, etc.--but it didn't get overwhelming or feel gratuitous. Also, with so much going on, there was the potential for it to be confusing or depressing, but it wasn't. Each character had a distinct voice and at the same time that there was a lot for them to work through and moments when it seemed like they were sabotaging themselves, there was also hope because of their relationships with each other and with secondary characters in the book. I was drawn to each of the characters--Grace, who is hurting and trying to figure out who she is and what to do after giving up her baby; Maya, who is pushing those she cares about away (She got annoying sometimes but in a totally realistic way!), and Joaquin who can't believe in his own worth (oh, he broke my heart. I loved him.) It was really beautiful to see the different family situations and to see the burgeoning relationship among the siblings, how they understand each other and connect with each other and even help each other heal. Loved it!

5 stars.

Friday, October 13, 2017

For Love or Honor

For Love or Honor by Sarah M. Eden

Stanley fell for Marjie the first time he met her, and her sweetness helped him as he healed from an injury he received as a British soldier fighting Napoleon's army. When Napoleon escaped and Stanley had to lead his men in the horrifying battle of Waterloo, it was thoughts of Marjie and re-reading her letters that kept him going. However, having been severely wounded physically and even more so emotionally, Stanley knows he can't share with Marjie the darkness that is inside him. While he might have to face her sometimes, as she's staying with her sister (who is married to his brother), Stanley is determined to keep his distance as much as he can. Marjie doesn't know exactly what has changed Stanley, but she's determined to help him heal--and find a way that they can be together as they'd both hoped.

I loved this book so much. It was so well-written, not glossing over the horrors of war or how the soldiers were impacted. It hurt seeing Stanley hurt; I love ALL of the Jonquils but he is so honorable and so vulnerable that he just tugged at my heart so much. And sweet Marjie--I loved seeing how she cared for him. I loved seeing other favorites from the series and getting to see some new characters--Pluck alone made the book worth reading! He made me laugh so much.There are truly beautiful, touching moments in this book (like when Stanley's niece Caroline finds out he's wounded), and I can't wait to reread it.

5 stars! One of my favorites of the year for sure!

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

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Dollmaker of Krakow

The Dollmaker of Krakow by R.M. Romero

Karolina lived peacefully in the Land of Dolls until rats invaded and she had to flee. She is carried by a good wind to Krakow, Poland, where a former soldier turned dollmaker has created a perfect body for her. Just as the Dollmaker has brought Karolina to life in a sense, she too starts to bring him to life--bringing him out of the despair that surrounds him. The two of them become friends with Jozef and his daughter Rena, and life is happy for them--until the Germans invaded Poland. Jozef and Rena are Jews, and Karoline and the Dollmaker must find a way to help their friends.

This book is a blend of historical fiction and fantasy and alternates between Karolina's experiences in Poland and flashbacks to her experiences in the Land of Dolls. The premise of a living doll is fascinating, and I think there will be lots of readers who enjoy it. I thought the parts set in Poland were written and developed better than the parts set in the Land of Dolls; while the descriptions of the doll world were pretty, I also feel like in some ways, that whole element could have been reduced to a few paragraphs and it wouldn't have been missed much. The story of the Holocaust, however, was more powerful and poignant. This is a sad story--realistically so--but also has a hopeful note. Definitely one that would be a good discussion-starter, not only about the book but about hate and prejudice, choices and consequences, and so much more.

4 stars.

Love, Jane

Love, Jane by Ranee S. Clark

Sean O'Callaghan has fallen hard for Jane Reeves, but he's trying to take things slowly like she's asked him to. Still, he's not expecting it at all when Jane tells him she's planning to serve a mission--and as much he wants her to stay, she's determined to go. Sean agrees to wait for her, but 18 months is a long time, and while she's gone, he meets up with a girl he used to like and has to decide who he's going to be with--Victoria, who's actually there, or Jane, who is thousands of miles away.

This is the third of Ranee Clark's books that I've read, and I think it's my favorite. Sean was such a good guy--always wanting to the right thing and to help everyone. I liked Jane a lot, too, and I thought her difficulties in speaking up, especially when there might be confrontation, was well-developed. I like how Ranee Clark throws in some sports with her romances; that's a fun element. All in all, this is a fun book but also has some depth to it. I look forward to reading more from Ranee Clark.

I won a copy of this book in a giveaway. All opinions are my own.

Miss Leslie's Secret

Miss Leslie's Secret by Jennifer Moore

Conall Stewart and Aileen Leslie get off to a rough start--Conall catches Aileen's son Jamie stealing and Aileen doesn't believe him, until she finds evidence of it. Conall is certain Aileen's coddling is going to lead Jamie to become a true criminal, but what he doesn't know is that Aileen is extra protective of Jamie because of his true identity; his mother is Aileen's friend whose dying wish was that Aileen keep Jamie safe from his father. When Aileen realizes Jamie did indeed steal from Conall, she has him make restitution by spending a day working for Conall. That day turns into many days, as Jamie thrives under the direction of a good man. At first, Conall and Jamie's growing closeness upsets Aileen, but soon she finds herself growing closer to Conall as well.

I loved the setting for this romance--the Scottish highlands. It was so interesting to see the day-to-day life there. I loved Conall's goodness, and Aileen's fierce protectiveness of her son, and Jamie's blossoming under Conall's tutelage. Another excellent book by Jennifer Moore. 4 stars.


Havencross by Julie Daines

When a scandal involving her father gets her family run out of London, they return home to Cornwall, somewhere Elaine had never wanted to return to, as it's where her brother disappeared--likely died--after going on an errand for Elaine. Not only does Elaine have to have those memories, but she also has to face Gareth Kemp and her memories of how she rejected him. Gareth, who has risen in status in the world, had tried to put thoughts of Elaine away from him, but when she returns, he can't deny he still loves her. Trying not to think of her, he instead tries to do something about the smugglers who killed his father and likely his best friend. However, he soon finds that Elaine has stumbled into a dangerous mess and it will take them working together and for each other to get out of the mess.

While I love a traditional Regency romance, I also appreciated that something new here, with the setting in Cornwall and the look at smuggling; those were very interesting. Julie Daines' descriptions transport you to Cornwall. I would've liked the romance to come through a little stronger, but the element of mystery and the look at smuggling kept the book moving forward quickly. This is a clean read and easy to recommend to those who like historical fiction, Regency romances, and a dash of mystery.

4 stars

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

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A List of Cages

A List of Cages
By Robin Roe

Julian is used to hiding out--whether at school or at home--but when Adam, a senior who was Julian's foster brother years ago is sent to escort Julian to the school counselor's office, Julian suddenly finds himself a lot more involved. Adam keeps inviting Julian to do things with him and his friends. For his part, Adam is excited to reconnect with the foster brother he didn't want to lose, but he quickly realizes that something isn't right about Julian's home life and has to figure out how he can help him. This book was totally engrossing; I read it in as close to one sitting as I could (breaking only when my kids forced me to pay attention them). I absolutely couldn't wait to find out how things played out. Told alternatively from Julian's and Adam's POV, it gives the reader a chance to care deeply about both boys--happy, friendly Adam, and shy, scared Julian, which I think is brilliant in keeping the balance just right. If it were just Julian, I think it'd be too heavy and dark; if it were just Adam, it wouldn't delve deeply enough into Julian's experiences (and, Julian definitely sounds younger than Adam--as he should since he's three years younger--and entire book in his voice would likely make it too young for the intended audience). It's not an easy read; what Julian goes through is scary and horrifying and hard to read, but it's also a story that needs to be told. There were some elements that frustrated me--I'd like to have known more about the motivations of certain characters and the ending wasn't quite enough for me--but it's one I won't be forgetting easily.

4 stars.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Thing with Feathers

The Thing with Feathers
By McCall Hoyle

Emilie has been homeschooled for most of her life--and that's the way she likes it, because it means she doesn't have to worry about having a seizure in front of other people. So when her mom decides it's time for her to go to high school, Emilie absolutely doesn't want to go. Even when she starts to make friends--and even attracts the interest of super cute, super nice Chatham York, Emilie still thinks it'd be better to be homeschooled than to have to explain her epilepsy to anyone.

 Emilie's voice was realistic--her thoughts seemed very true to what someone in her situation would feel. And Chatham was just adorable. I loved seeing their developing relationship, but I also appreciated seeing Emilie's struggles to get along with her mother and her mother's new boyfriend. I think there are a lot of issues that will resonate with teen readers.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Love Remains

Love Remains
By Sarah M. Eden

Since the accident that left his younger brother blind, Tavish O'Connor has been trying to hold his family together. Desperate to help Finnbarr, and to restore hope to all of his family, he sends for a teacher for the blind. Cecily Attwater, who starting losing her own sight as a child, knows that she can help Finnbarr--if he and his family, proud Irishmen who dislike her for her for being an Englishwoman will let her. While she and Tavish butts heads at first, their mutual goal of helping Finnbarr draws them together, but even as they become closer, they know the animosity between the Irish and the English will make a future impossible.

I have been waiting for this book for years! (Tavish was my favorite character in the first two books in the series, so I've been waiting for him to have a chance to find love.) I was a little worried about the book and if it'd be as satisfying as I hoped, and it totally was. I loved seeing Tavish and Cecily come to understand each other and help each other. It was hard seeing the O'Connors, who I love, treat Cecily the way they did, as well as seeing Finnbarr (who might be my second favorite character in the series) be so broken initially, but I thought it was realistically written. I loved the humor in it, in spite of darker themes and situations. I hope there will be many more books in this series, and I can't wait to reread this one!

5 stars.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Love and Other Consolation Prizes

Love and Other Consolation Prizes
By Jamie Ford
When the World's Fair comes to Seattle in 1962, Ernest Young's reporter daughter JuJu wants to know more about Ernest's connection to the first World's Fair (then called the Alaskan Yukon Pacific Expo) held in Seattle in 1909. As he faces his daughter's questions, as well as dealing with his wife's health issues, Ernest reflects on his early life--when he, a half-Chinese, half-white immigrant, was a raffle prize at the fair. When the winner--the owner of a brothel--claims him, Ernest finds himself with a family of sorts for the first time and in love with two girls--Maisie, the daughter of the brothel owner, and Fahn, a Japanese servant. This book was absolutely engrossing. In some ways it's not an easy read, seeing the heartache and hardship in Ernest's life, as well as the experiences of Fahn and Maisie. It's a sobering look at the way Americans essentially kidnapped Asian people and auctioned them to the highest bidder and at racism, hypocrisy, and more. However, it's also so much more than that, with a collection of unforgettable characters and relationships. It looks at human nature, and at survival, and at love, and it's so well-written, alternating between Ernest's early life and his life in 1962. I was a little nervous about how it was going to end--but I loved it. Ernest is one of those characters you just fall in love with, and his story is definitely worth reading.
5 stars.

 Many thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine for allowing me to read an ARC. All opinions are my own.

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Dangerous Legacy

A Dangerous Legacy
By Elizabeth Camden

Lucy Drake, a telegraph operator for the Associated Press, and her brother Nick have been caught up in a family feud for years--their grandfather invented a plumbing valve that his brother ended up making a fortune off of. Lucy and Nick, following in their father's footsteps, want the valve to be used to help everyone, not have the price so high only the rich can afford it, and they're in a legal battle with their uncle, aunt, and cousin, over the family legacy. Although it means sacrificing just about everything, Lucy is determined to see the battle through to the end.

Sir Colin Beckwith, a British aristocrat who heads up a rival news agency, needs to find a wealthy wife in order to save his family's estate, Whitefriars--which means he has no business getting involved with Lucy, who doesn't have at the fortune necessary to save his crumbling home. But as he learns about Lucy's family battle--and the larger secrets her foes are hiding--he can't help but becoming involved.

 I've read all of Elizabeth Camden's books, and while I have enjoyed all of them, this one is my favorite. It was fascinating. The plot was so interesting, with twists and turns and historical tidbits that made me want to learn more (like the completion of the AP's Pacific Cable and the controversy over whether to build a canal through Panama or through Nicaragua); there was a fair bit of action and it kept me guessing about how things would play out. I loved the banter between Lucy and Colin; they made me laugh so many times. It's fast-paced and entirely gripping. I highly recommend this one. 5 stars.

 I received a free copy via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Heart on the Line

Heart on the Line
By Karen Witemeyer

When Grace Mallory's father uncovers evidence that a rich silver mine owner isn't actually his father's true heir, he is determined to give the evidence to the Pinkertons. Before he can, however, he's murdered and Grace has to find a way to hide herself--and figure out what evidence her father possessed. She finds safe harbor in Harper's Station, a women's colony, and sets up her life there working as a telegraph operator. Through her work, she becomes "friends" with a fellow operator, Mr. A. Although she has never met him in person, their after-hours telegraph conversations are dear to her. And when word comes down the line, Mr. A--Amos Bledsoe--shows up in Harper's Station to help the woman he's never met. Drawn to "Miss G" through their conversations, Amos has wanted to meet her--and when he realizes she's in danger, he heads out immediately to help her. Meeting her in person, he finds she's everything he hoped and more, and he'll do anything to keep her safe.

 I love all of Karen Witemeyer's books, and my favorite tends to be whichever one I just read, but this one might be hard to top. There are so many wonderful things about this book. I love the fact that Amos isn't the typical hero--he's not the strongest, handsomest guy around, but he just might be the sweetest. I love how he uses his strengths to help Grace. Grace is a terrific protagonist. I loved seeing their growing relationship and their friendship as they work to solve the mystery and try to keep Grace safe. The plot kept moving quickly and was very interesting, with twists and action and suspense; I love how the telegraph played such a big role. (Side note: one cool thing about the Harper's Station series is seeing women in their professions.) I also really, really, really loved the side-story with Helen. I can't say more without spoilers, but it was a great subplot. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and wholeheartedly recommend it.

Although this is the second book in a series, you don't have to read the first one for this to make sense...but you should read the first one because it's a great book, too.

Friday, July 7, 2017

All That Makes Life Bright

All That Makes Life Bright
By Josi S. Kilpack

When Harriet Beecher and Calvin Stowe wed, they find that their different personalities and styles make adjusting to married life more difficult than they anticipated. Although they love each other deeply, they have different expectations and styles; Calvin thrives on order and thriftiness and wants his wife to develop her homemaking skills, while Hattie wants time to work on projects, especially her writing, and doesn't particularly care for cooking, cleaning, or other household tasks. Is there a way for Hattie to be true to herself and still care for her family?

I enjoyed the romantic aspect of this book and thought it was realistic in portraying the struggle to make a marriage work. While a lot of romances focus on the relationship before marriage, it was interesting to see how to develop and nurture love after the wedding. While there was a more serious, darker tone, to this book than a lot of romances (due to the worry and heavy feelings of Hattie and Calvin as they struggle to make their marriage work), I found that to be refreshing and realistic--and ultimately, hopeful, because relationships aren't all sunshine and roses, and they do take work and effort and sometime they're just hard. I think Kilpack did a great job conveying the struggles and emotions, particularly Hattie's struggles with feeling like she's losing herself as she tries to care for her family. Very well done.
4.5 stars.
I read an ARC via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Romancing Daphne

Romancing Daphne
By Sarah M. Eden

Daphne Lancaster is used to being ignored and rejected, so she isn't anticipating Lord Tilburn's attention to her--even though she has admired her since a brief encounter with him, in which he was kind to her, when she was twelve. So when he seems interested in her, she's inwardly thrilled--but when she finds out that his father forced him into a courtship with her, she is heartbroken. For his part, James never intended to court Miss Lancaster; he agreed to be civil and pay a little attention to her; when his father threatened to cut off not only his funds but his brother's and mother's as well, James is torn, knowing it's not fair to a young lady to have someone forced into caring for her but also wanting to take care of his family. When he finds himself coming to know Daphne, he finds that she is delightful, but the truth of how his attentions began threatens to ruin everything. James must find a way to convince first Daphne's formidable brother-in-law, the Duke of Kielder, who will not allow anyone to hurt his family, and then Daphne herself that he can be trusted.

I was a little apprehensive as I started this book, because Adam (the Duke of Kielder) is such a forceful character, that he would take center stage and Daphne would be overshadowed--and indeed, at the outset, it almost felt like the book was more about Adam than Daphne (at least in the chapters from James' POV). However, as the book progressed, I got to see more and and more of Daphne and Adam was moved to the sides more--which was brilliant because it realistically depicted how James's perspective and emotions shifted. I loved having another glimpse of Adam--he's one of my favorite characters and I laugh out loud at some of the things he says--but I also liked seeing both Daphne and James find their voices. This is another excellent book from Sarah M. Eden! Can't wait for more!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Miss Whitaker Opens Her Heart

Miss Whitaker Opens Her Heart
By Jennifer Moore

Daniel Burton is sent to New South Wales as a convict--but when he arrives, he's pardoned and given the chance to become a landowner instead.He is grateful for his fresh start and is determined to make the most of it. He is intrigued by his neighbor, Sarah Whitaker, who arrived in Australia as a child and has become a successful businesswoman on her own. She seems a constant contradiction. While she has a strong dislike for the native people and convicts, believing them incapable of truly changing, Daniel also sees more in her--but can their fledgling feelings survive the truth of Daniel's background?

I think what I like most about Jennifer Moore's books is that she takes a familiar time period (Regency era) and brings in a different location. It's so interesting to see what life was like in other parts of the world during that era. I also liked seeing how Sarah had become who she was--and also how she began to change. Another great book from Jennifer Moore.

4 stars.

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

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Wings of the Wind

Wings of the Wind
Connilyn Cossette

Alanah has no life left among the Canaanite people after the deaths of her father and brothers, all killed by the advancing Hebrews, so she disguises herself as a man and joins the Canaanite army as they fight the Hebrews once more--only this time, her people are decimated, and Alanah, who thought she would die in battle, survives. A Hebrew soldier, Tobiah, finds her among the wounded, and to honor Yahweh and to protect Alanah, he marries her. Alanah and Tobiah have thirty days to consider if they will stay married, and while Alanah initially is certain that she will leave, as she comes to know her husband, his people, and his God, she begins to wonder if she could truly, for the first time in her life, find a home.

 This book is Biblical fiction at its finest. Connilyn Cossette gives you everything--characters who you care about deeply, amazing descriptions, beautiful language, and a compelling plot, as well as an invitation to think about God and His presence and His ways.
I loved Tobiah, his quiet strength and his determination to do what is right, and I loved seeing Alanah's walls come down, as she learned that she didn't need to rely only on herself but that she could trust Tobiah and God. I loved the message of hope in her story (as well as certain other characters we meet later in the book), as she finds healing from deeply inflicted emotional wounds. 

The descriptions of the scenery, as well as of the people the Hebrews fought and their depravity, really made this period of history come to life. It made some (in my opinion), somewhat dry chapters from the Bible become much more interesting. The language had a similar effect, bringing to life a fascinating story.

There were so many things to love about the plot--seeing Tobiah and Alanah come to trust and care for each other, seeing Alanah's acceptance of Yahweh, and subsequent challenges (which I can't mention without giving spoilers!) were so gripping. This is one of those books you should try to clear out a large chunk of time for, because you don't want to put it down once you stop.

This was an excellent book, and I can't wait for more from Connilyn Cossette!

 I received a free copy of the book from the publisher and author. All opinions are my own.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Dreamland Burning

Dreamland Burning
By Jennifer Latham

As Rowan Chase's family starts a remodeling project on their property, workers find a human skeleton. Rowan is captivated by the discovery, and she and her best friend James set out to discover who the skeleton belongs to and how he came to be buried on her property. Because of this search, as well as her summer job/internship working at a clinic in the poor part of town, Rowan comes to think about race differently than ever before.

In 1921, William Tillman, who is half-white, half-Indian, gets caught up in the racial conflicts sweeping Tulsa. As he works in his father's Victorla shop, he comes to know a couple of Negroes, and when the racial tensions explode, he must decide whether to side with the whites who are determined to rid Tulsa of "bad" Negroes, do nothing except protect his own skin, or help those who are being attacked.

This book started off a little slow for my liking, but I'm so glad I stuck with it. Not only is this a well-written and captivating story, it's also an important one, as it introduces readers (most of whom, like me, likely aren't familiar with the rioting and killing of many African Americans in Tulsa in 1921) to a significant even in history. The way the story is presented made it fascinating, as readers wonder, along with Rowan, who was killed and why. William's story was even more interesting, as we see his growth. The culmination of the tensions in violence is so gripping--and even terrifying as the readers have to wait to find out who survives and who doesn't. This was really, really well-written and makes my best of 2017 list.

4.5 stars.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Newton & Polly

Newton & Polly
By Jody Hedlund
When John Newton meets Polly Catlett, it's love at first sight. He knows she's the girl for him--but unfortunately, there are things that make him not the right man for her. He's impulsive and undisciplined and doesn't stick with anything he starts. His father has gotten him several different jobs, only to have Newton mess up each one of them. He also gives into his desires to drink and gamble and doubts the existence of God. Polly cares for him in return and wants him to rise up an d become the man she thinks he can be...but instead, he seems intent on descending further and further.

Wow. Fantastic. Jody Hedlund does a great job developing Newton's and Polly's feelings and getting you to really want things to work for them. It was painful to watch Newton fail again and again--and to continually blame it on others instead of realizing it was his own fault, time and again. He got to a point where it was really hard to like him--which makes the novel all that more well-written because it truly shows how God can redeem even the vilest of sinners. I would have liked to see even more of his transformation from the entitled brat who indulged his lusts to the man redeemed through God's grace. Really captivating story.

The Secret of the India Orchid

The Secret of the India Orchid
By Nancy Campbell Allen
On the very day Anthony Blake plans to ask his best friend for permission to court his sister, Sophia Elliott, circumstances arise that make the relationship he has dreamed of impossible. Before coming into his inheritance, Anthony had served as a spy. Now, a valuable document with detailed information about British spies--including Anthony--and their families and associates. Anthony needs to retrieve the document in first his safety but also for the safety of those he loves. In order to resume his role as a spy, though, Anthony has to cut ties with Sophia and act the part of a playboy. 
Heartbroken, Sophia sets about to forget Anthony--and when staying in London doesn't do the trick, she embarks on a trip, only to run into Anthony, whose attempts to retrieve the stolen document have led him there. It's harder than ever to pretend he doesn't care for Sophia, especially as she becomes involved in circumstances that seem connected to the stolen document--including the murder of the man Anthony believes last possessed the document. More than ever, Anthony wants to be able to give his heart to Sophia--and she wants to know what is truly going on with him.

This was a fascinating read. It gave some really interesting insights into the British experience in India and relations between the British and the Indians. The mystery element of the book was also captivating; I was very interested in finding out who had the document and who committed murder to get it. And of course, the romance between Sophia and Anthony was superb. I loved both of them in My Fair Gentleman, and I was so excited to get to read their story in this book--and I love how their story played out. Fantastic read!

I read an ARC through NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

A Fine Gentleman

A Fine Gentleman
By Sarah M. Eden 

Jason Jonquil provides himself on his good character--he's dignified and refined, ever the gentleman...even if no one seems to fully appreciate him or think him quite equal to his brothers. When Mariposa Thornton arrives in his office, though, she tries his patience and flusters him in ways few people can. He can't wait to figure out Mariposa's matter of an inheritance and send her on her way.
Mariposa has escaped from Spain, having experience horrors in the war with Napoleon. She has come to England hoping that her mother and little brother have come to England as well and settled with her father's family. However, Mariposa doesn't know who her father's relatives are, so she doesn't know how to find them. She doesn't trust anyone, though, so she won't tell Jason what she really needs help with and hides even her true self from him.
While Jason doesn't care for how Mariposa treats him, he also can't abandon his principles--especially those that require him to help a lady--so he reluctantly aids her, and in so doing, she pushes him to reveal parts of himself that he had buried inside, as well as revealing who she truly is.

Sarah Eden rocks. I love her books, and this was no exception. I loved seeing Jason's interactions with Mariposa but also his interactions with his family and especially seeing why he acted the way he did. Mariposa was a bit frustrating in her initial treatment of Jason, but it was also realistic given her past. I loved seeing how they bantered later on, and I loved getting to see other Jonquils (especially Philip and Sorrel) in this book. Can't wait for more books by Sarah Eden!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Condemn Me Not

Condemn Me Not
By Heather B. Moore

In this compelling piece of historical fiction, we read the story of Susannah North Martin as she awaits her trial--and ultimately her death--after being accused of witchcraft. We see the present day (Salem, 1692), interspersed with chapters that show how Susannah falling in love with George Martin and their beginning their life together. Both story lines were fascinating to me; it was very interesting to see how Susannah and the other women being held in jail were "tried" (the trials were a joke) and how they interacted with one another, as well as how each had come to be accused and all the pettiness and politics behind their accusations and convictions. That aspect of the story provided a discussion-worthy look at history. Even more than those parts of the book, though, I loved seeing Susannah and George's meeting and subsequent interactions--and how he had to persuade her to give him a chance. I just loved seeing their love story. It was sweet and funny and I was just totally drawn in by it.
I haven't read ALL of Heather Moore's books, but I've read quite a few (full length and novellas) and this just might be my favorite of all of them. I was just especially eager to see how things played out for Susannah, both in her developing relationship with George and with her trial; even knowing what was ultimately going to happen, I couldn't help but want to know HOW it happened and what would lead up to it.
Really riveting novel. 5 stars.

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

The Vicar's Daughter

The Vicar's Daughter
By Josi S. Kilpack

Cassie, the youngest of the vicar, can't be out in society until her older sister Lenora, makes a match. Frustrated with her sister, who is in her third season and shows no signs of being able to talk to a man, let alone make a match with one, Cassie fears she'll never be able to make a match of her own. So when Lenora expresses interest in Evan Glenside, who has recently risen to the role of heir of a nearby estate, Cassie does something drastic: she begins writing to Evan for Lenora. As they pen letter back and forth, Cassie is drawn to Evan--and when she actually meets him, she realizes it's going to be much harder to help her sister make a match with him when she herself has come to care for him. For his part, Evan enjoys the letters he exchanges with Lenora and he hopes that she will overcome her shyness and display the same personality in person as she has in her letters, but when that doesn't come to pass, he doesn't know what to think.

I was really worried about how this book was going to play out, and if the author went a certain direction, I was sure it was going to ruin the whole book for me. (See spoilers below if you want to know what the plot line that would have ruined it for me was.) Luckily, she didn't, and I liked how things played out. (I might have to go reread it now that I know how it ends so I don't have to be nervous the whole time!) There were times when Cassie was (realistically) frustrating and self-absorbed, but at the same time, I could understand that, since I'd have been totally frustrated in her situation, too. Evan was a terrific male lead; I liked seeing how he'd been raised in a lower class and needed to learn the rules of polite society and how not knowing all the rules compounded the problem he found himself in. I also liked how there's a message of forgiveness and trying to fix things one has done wrong. All in all, a great historical romance.
4.5 stars.

I read an ARC via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

SPOILERS!!! I would have hated this book if the resolution to the problem had come by having Lenora die. That just would have been really frustrating to me, so I'm happy to report that Lenora is alive and well as the end of the book...and I'm hoping we could actually see her as the protagonist of another book.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Carve the Mark

Carve the Mark
By Veronica Roth

So, I love reading books in series because it means I get to spend more time with characters I love...but I don't always remember what happened in earlier books when the next book in the series is published. So, this post is going to totally have SPOILERS--tons and tons of SPOILERS. I'm going to pretty much summarize the entire plot and tell who's who, so that when the next book comes out, I can look at this post to remind myself of what happened and important details. So, here's my synopsis of Carve the Mark.

The are nine planets orbiting within the currentstream barrier, each with certain things that make it unique. Thuvhe has two groups of people--the Thuvhites and the Shotets. The Shotets, led by the Noavek family, are scavengers who visit other planets and scavenge there and bring back what they find to renew it and make it good again. They are pretty bloodthirsty and they mark their arms with "kills". They are also determined to rule their planet--but the Oracles have proclaimed that Ryzek Noavek is fated to fall to the family Benesit. Like his parents before him, Ryzek is determined to find a way to avoid his fate--although the whole point of a fate is that it is destined, seen in whatever future the Oracles envision, no matter what different scenarios play out.

Each person is given a different gift through the currentstream--and Ryzek, who has been twisted and warped by his tyrannical father, will use whatever means he can to change his fate, including his own currentgift of taking people's memories and replacing them with his, and his sister Cyra's currentgift of hurting--torturing--people by merely touching them. Normally fates aren't publicly known, but when the fates of several people are announced, Ryzek sends soldiers to Thuvhe to capture those who will interfere with his mission.

The Kesreseth family is one Thuvhite family that is attacked. Akos is captured, as is his brother, Eijeh, who is fated to be the next Oracle. Their sister Cisi is spared, but their father is killed, and their mother Sifa (the current oracle) does nothing to stop any of this. Akos and Eijeh are taken to Ryzek, who demands that Eijeh prophesy for him, but Eijeh doesn't know how to use his gift. Akos has been trained as a soldier but then he is given to Cyra as a servant--because his currentgift is interrupts others' gifts, which means if he touches her, she is no longer in constant pain. He is determined to escape and to take Eijeh with him--but once he tries, Ryzek starts taking pieces of Eijeh's memory, replacing them with his own (horrible) memories, until Eijeh is barely recognizable as himself. Cyra has always done what her brother demanded, hurting people, so that he wouldn't tell anyone that she had (accidentally) killed their mother, but as she spends time with Akos, who has a goodness about him and also seems to believe there is something good in her, she refuses to help Ryzek--until he hurts Akos to punish her. From that point on, Cyra is ready to work with rebels and exiles to get Akos away from her brother--even if it means making him go without Eijeh. Cyra tries to lead an assassination attempt, but it fails--and then Ryzek makes her touch Akos (who, in a severely weakend state can't use his currentgift to interrupt her) to torture him. In so doing, though, Cyra, who has never been able to control her gift, resists. She loves Akos and refuses to hurt him, pulling the pain back into herself. When she does so, Akos is rescued by her allies; they take him to Thuvhe, where he meets up with his sister, Cisi, and her friend Isae (who is destined to be the Chancellor that Ryzek falls to) and her twin sister Ori (who keeps her sister safe as very few people know which of them is fated to be the Chancellor--and killing them in the wrong order can change things that people don't want changed). Ori is kidnapped by Shotets, so Cisi, Isae, and Akos go meet up with Jorek, a Shotet rebel (and Cyra's cousin).
Meanwhile, Cyra has been skinned on her face by Vas, her brother's soldier who can't feel pain, and has been challenged to fight him. However, Akos and his allies (including Teka, Jorek, and more) get her out of the arena. Akos has realized he cares for her, too. Sifa joins their group--and Akos has mixed feelings about her, since she didn't protect them and manipulates people sometimes through her visions. Based on Sifa's latest visions, the group decides that Akos and Isae will rescue Ori before Ryzek can assassinate her and that Cyra will publicly challenge Ryzek to a fight that he can't back down from without losing face. Akos, hoping to force Ryzek to restore Eijeh's memories, wants her to keep Ryzke alive, but she says she can't. When Akos and Isae go rescue Ori, she isn't in the prison that Sifa said she was in (Akos kills Vas on the way to get there). Cyra has gotten a reluctant ally, Yma, to poison Ryzek; she makes it look like she stabs him but really he is only unconscious; however, as that happens, Eijeh kills Ori, his former friend and then sort of goes into a trance--possibly affected by Ori's gift (but Akos doesn't know what her gift is). They get Ryzek and Eijeh back to the ship, where Ryzek tells Cyra she's not really his sister and that HIS father (not her father) is still alive.
Isae directs their ship to go to the Assembly, to show them she is alive. Akos, with his mother and sister, and now Cyra, sees that maybe you can get some things least for now.

So, this was a fascinating world to enter. Akos is a likable character; he's good and loyal and he hates hurting people. Cyra is complicated--which is good. She's an excellent character for discussion--is she good? Is she bad? Is she to blame for how she is? etc. (Ryzek and Sifa also make for interesting discussion points.)

This reminds me of Graceling by Kristin Cashore--with special gifts that a wicked ruler uses to maintain power and exploit others. I'm really interested to see where things go in the next book.

4.5 stars.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Valentine's Day Collection

Valentine's Day Collection
 This collection of six Valentine's Day novellas was a lot of fun. Great choice for a light-hearted V-day read.

A Brush with the Law by Janette Rallision
Bethany Daniels thinks that the worst thing that will happen on Valentine's Day is her blind date...and while that could be bad enough, after being pulled over for running a red light and then arrested for a crime she didn't commit (while dressed only in her unmentionables), this Valentine's Day has the potential to go down as the worst in history.
This was a great start to the collection; it totally made me laugh out loud. It was funny but also not so far-fetched as to be unbelievable. As soon as I finished reading this story, I wanted to go back and reread it!

Every Occasion by Heather B. Moore
Maurie Ledbetter has moved back to her hometown--to the home she lived in with her mother before she was removed and placed in foster care. When she calls a local handyman to get some repairs done,she isn't expecting Grant Shelton--her crush from her teenage years. She's happy to see him, and while attraction soon flares up between them, Grant has something to tell Maurie that could derail their relationship before it really gets going.
More serious than the first story in the collection, this was well-written and hopeful, showing how Maurie put a painful past behind her. Grant is a cutie--sweet and serious and an all-around good guy. I liked seeing how things came together for them.

Hold Your Breath by Jenny Proctor
Kayla isn't going to let anything get in the way of her dreams of making the Olympics, so even when she's home for vacation, she's swimming and training every chance she can. But when she runs into her former crush and high school swim teammate, Nate Hanson, she can't deny she's still attracted to him. But getting involved is a risk she just can't take if she wants to achieve her dreams, right?

Another fun read. Pretty light-hearted but also realistic as it shows the dilemma of trying to balance even the good things that life brings.

The Ultimate Bachelor Challenge by Annette Lyon
Sam is just trying to do some laundry in preparation for Valentine's Day--and hopefully, her boyfriend's proposal--but instead, she finds herself crossing paths with Connor Wynn. Connor has reluctantly accepted a challenge for the sake of charity, in which he has to compete with another YouTuber to see who is the ultimate bachelor...which leads him to a laundromat where he meets Sam and gets her involved in completing a couple tasks for the challenge.
This one was a little less appealing to me; there were some elements that seemed a little less believable to me (like, really, her boyfriend did what he does on Valentine's Day? He couldn't have picked any other day to do it?), but Connor was a totally sweetie and Sam is fun and spunky.

Deal Breakers by Heather Tullis When weather strands her in the Denver airport, Colette runs into Drew, a former college friend who she burned bridges with when she dated another guy instead of him. In the day and a half that they're stuck in the airport, they reconnect and find that there's still a spark there--but is it enough to build on?
This one was the weakest story in the collection for me; I felt like the author TOLD about their connection more than actually showing it. And while it's realistic that they'd have a lot of baggage to sort out and talk about, it wasn't super interesting to read about. However, having been stranded in a few airports myself, I can say I wish I'd run into a handsome guy when that happened.

Hey, Helen by Sarah M. Eden
Helen, an advice column writer, is working on her Valentine's Day themed columns, and as usual, her neighbor and best friend Neil, is her sounding board for her ideas. As they talk about Valentine's Day, Neil tries to figure out if there's a good way to tell Helen his feelings for her are more than just friendly.
True to form, Sarah Eden provides great dialogue and humor in this story. She's awesome at including lovable and laughable banter, and this story didn't disappoint.I also loved the low-key approach to V-day in this story.

Another enjoyable collection the Timeless Romance series. I received a free copy from the publisher. All opinions are my own. 4.5 stars. Clean read.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Season in London (Timeless Regency Romance)

This is a great collection of clean Regency romances.

Poor Relations by Elizabeth Johns
Emma Standrich is having a season in London before becoming a governess, as her family is impoverished and needs her income, especially since the death of her brother, who was a soldier. However, when Colonel Colin Shelton, her brother's superior officer, dances with her a ball, her prospects change. While Emma's main goal for her season was to try to find out what really happened with her brother's death, she soon finds herself with an offer of marriage. This was the weakest novella of the three; I just felt like it wasn't as smooth or developed as the other two. While I liked the mystery aspect as Emma tried to figure out the truth behind her brother's death and who she could trust, the romance was good have been developed better; I felt like it didn't really show developing feelings very well and wish there had been more to show how they came to care for each other.

Edward & Emily by Heather B. Moore
Edward is recently returned home, as his brother has died and he is now the heir to the family estate. His neighbor Emily, whom he knew but pretty much ignored in favor of his books as a child, has recently experienced the death of her father. While Edward returned home reluctantly, and he participates in the social events his mother has planned even more reluctantly, when he becomes reacquainted with Emily, he finds that perhaps London has more to offer than he expected.
This was a delightful story. I liked the letters that Emily and Edward exchanged and the humor in them, as well as the growing friendship, trust, and affection they showed.

A Sporting Season by Rebecca Connelly
Daphne Hutchins absolutely does not want a season in London. Forced by her parents anyway, she is determined to do all that she can--short of completely ruining herself--to make sure she receives no offers. So she wears dresses completely out of style, refuses to dance, and makes impolite conversation, which should ensure an unsuccessful season. But instead, Jamie Woodbridge is completely entranced by her and courts her (without her consent but to her parents' complete delight), even though Daphne tries to push him away. As determined as she is to achieve her goal, Daphne can't help but be drawn to him.
This was my favorite of the three novellas. There were laugh-out-loud moments, great banter between Daphne and Jamie, and totally sweet moments as well. Daphne was spunky and determined and well-developed, and Jamie was dreamy. I really, really liked this story.

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

4.5 stars. Clean Read.