Dollbaby is one of those novels that sinks its hooks into you and refuses to let go. I love historical fiction, but I was hesitant when the publisher first approached me about reading and reviewing this one. I wanted to read it, but my July review schedule was already packed. I had promised myself that this summer I would be better at balancing what I had to read and what I wanted to read, but I ultimately decided that this one sounded too good to pass up. It was the best decision I could have made. Dollbaby kept me glued to its pages until I had savored every page within twenty four hours. This is the sort of novel you need to make time for sooner rather than later. Laura Lane McNeal's debut novel is one of intrigue, southern hospitality, and the deep bond between females.
As a southerner, I have always found historical fiction rooted in the south to be appealing. While my home region has a vast amount of sorrow lurking in its past, there are also moments of great joy to celebrate. The south is a complicated place with a mixture of ethnicities, religions, cultures, languages, and customs. Every pocket of the south has its own distinct flavor, but I can't think of a place more diverse than New Orleans. In New Orleans, one doesn't have to look far to find glimpses of the southern aristocracy, race conflict, socioeconomic conflicts, Creole and Cajun influences, and a strong sense of place. All of these things combine to make New Orleans an amazing location - both for fiction and nonfiction. I was lucky enough to visit The Crescent City a few summers ago and now I can't get enough of fiction set in NOLA. One of my favorite places to visit is The Garden District so I was ecstatic to see that Fannie's house lay within those hallowed streets. The city and the house function like characters in many ways. You can't read this one without being fully immersed in the culture and society of New Orleans.
Furthermore, the time period of this novel also makes for some interesting side stories. It's the 1960's and race conflict throughout the South is in full swing. Integration is sweeping through the region and not everyone is happy to see its arrival. The interaction between the white and African American characters in this novel provided a lot of food for thought. I enjoyed see the dynamic between Fannie and Queenie's family play out. The sense of family between these women transcends their races, but they still were not able to fully embrace one another as equals. In addition to race conflicts, the novel also allows the reader to experience the divide between rich and poor as well as protests against US involvement in Vietnam. Also, I enjoyed seeing the different schools of thought within the African American community concerning integration come to life. Queenie is strongly in the school of Booker T. Washington; she believes nobody should rock the boat and being passive is the way to lasting change. Dollbaby on the other hand is a symbol for the thoughts of W.E.B. DuBois - for change to happen you must make it happen. These differing views caused the mother and daughter to butt heads on multiple occasions, but I felt like it added another layer of authenticity to the story.
I was also intrigued because I couldn't quite identify the main character. There were moments when I was convinced that it was Ibby, Fannie's granddaughter who is dropped on Prytania Street by her flighty mother after her father passes away. Ibby's story at first appears to dominate the narrative; she is a young girl growing up in a tumultuous time of change. She also grew up in Washington State so I enjoyed getting her outsider's perspective on all things New Orleans. While Ibby's coming of age is certainly important, I feel the true main character is Dollbaby, Queenie's daughter. I suppose I should have landed on this based on the title, but the novel is written in such a way that Dollbaby's story doesn't truly take the forefront until the closing chapters. I loved that McNeal chose to weave her story in this way. All the characters provide a thread that when tied together make a beautiful quilt detailing the lives of some amazing women.
All in all, I loved this novel and all of the characters. I enjoyed the way McNeal allowed the story to unravel by seeing things through multiple characters eyes and getting flashbacks into Fannie's secretive past. The pacing was pitch perfect, the prose was addictive and moving, and the characters were so lifelike it felt like they were about to step out of the pages and have a glass of sweet tea with me. The sense of place that McNeal conjures will have you longing for a trip to New Orleans. I highly recommend this one to fans of historical fiction and those who have enjoyed novels such as The Help and The Secret Life of Bees. Dollybaby is reminiscent of the previously mentioned titles due to its southern setting, emphasis on coming of age, and the relationship between different races.
One Last Gripe: Vidrine annoyed me. She certainly will never win mother of the year and I found it hard to understand why Graham loved her in the first place.
Favorite Thing About The Book: I loved the relationships between Fannie, Queenie, Dollbaby, and Ibby.
First Sentence: There are times you wish you could change things, take things back, pretend they never existed.
New Orleans + a ghost + amazing homes in the Garden District + a quirky heroine + a hot neighbor = my kind of read
Ghouls Rush In is the first installment in H.P. Mallory's newest series about the fiesty and hilarious, Peyton Clark. Peyton is a recent transplant to New Orleans after her marriage crashed and burned. The only thing Peyton has that is all her own is the crumbling down mansion her great aunt left her in the Garden District. She's determined to restore the home to its former glory, but she realizes it's going to take a lot of work and some help with someone who has an eye for historic preservation. Luckily for Peyton, she has a handsome and construction minded neighbor, Ryan Kelly, who agrees to help her with the renovation.
Peyton feels like she was meant to live her life out in New Orleans all along. She can't believe it took so long for her to make her way down south, but everything isn't sunshine and beignets. Peyton's dreams are haunted by a handsome policeman, Drake Montague, who can't seem to let his house go. Peyton fears Drake at first, but soon learns that something much darker lurks in her home. Drake becomes an unlikely ally as the darkness comes for Peyton. Can she escape with her home and sanity in tact?
I loved the setting of this one. New Orleans is the perfect town to host ghosts and Mallory does a beautiful job of bringing Drake to life. I love his sassy attitude and his desire to protect his home and Peyton. Mallory also describes New Orleans well; I felt like I was on vacation as I saw the city through Peyton's eyes. I am seriously longing for another trip back to the Big Easy after reading this one.
In addition to the setting, I enjoyed the characters. Peyton does come across as a little immature in some moments, but I chalked that up to her sheltered days of wedding unbliss. She wasn't truly given a chance to find herself and experience her youth due to her husband's domineering ways. I was able to overlook her silly, flighty moments. I found that Peyton is fiery and loyal; you couldn't ask for a better friend. Likewise, Ryan also exhibits qualities that make him appealing. Not only is he gorgeous (which never hurts), but he is also intelligent, interested in history, and protective. Even when Peyton seems crazy with all of her ghost talk, Ryan supports her. We could all use a friend like Ryan Kelly in our corner. Lastly, I enjoyed Drake as well, but I felt like the summary of the novel was slightly misleading. There isn't a romance between Drake and Peyton - just some playful banter and slight innuendo. I did enjoy the relationship between Peyton and Drake, but I was expecting something far different.
In spite of how much I enjoyed this one, I do have one major complaint. What was up with that ending? There is all this buildup about the dark entity in Peyton's house, but the ending seems anti-climatic. I just don't think things could be wrapped up so easily. I'm hoping that the second book will shed some light on this complaint. Surely, things can't be so simple. In addition to the simplicity, the ending felt rushed after the slower beginning. I hope that the next book balances the action a bit better. I didn't get a strong sense of closure with this one.
One Last Gripe: I felt like this one only scratches the surface of Peyton's family history and Drake's connection to the house. I need more details.
Favorite Things About This Book: The setting and historical connections
First Sentence: It was time for a fresh start.
Favorite Character: Peyton
Least Favorite Character: I didn't have one.(less)
I sat down to write this review mere moments after finishing this novel. As I try to gather my thoughts, I am overwhelmed by the awe and beauty of this one. Lawrenson has managed to not only craft a compelling historical fiction tale, but she has also added contemporary layers with a hint of mysticism. I was expecting a historical piece with some romance and intrigue that focused on WWII. I certainly got those elements, but this novel is so much more. The writing is lush and haunting; the characters are rich and dynamic.
For starters, the structure of this novel makes it stand out. Rather than using multiple narrators through rotating chapters to tell the story strands, Lawrenson has crafted three novellas. I wasn't sure how the three distinct stories would be connected, but by the end everything is made clear. I loved that Lawrenson left this until the last few chapters. It forced me to try to figure out the connection and added another layer of enjoyment as I searched for the common thread that tied the novellas together. Interestingly enough, I was nowhere near the reality of the ending.
The first novella focuses on Ellie Brooke, a young British woman, who has been lured to the island by the prospect of a lucrative job opportunity. Ellie designs gardens and often uses historical influences in her work. When the wealthy owner of a vineyard on the island of Porquerolles requests her assistance in the restoration of a memorial garden on his estate, Ellie jumps at the chance to take her company international. However, a sinister air lurks over Ellie's experiences on the island. She is convinced that someone is watching her and when odd events start to occur, Ellie is determined to head home and leave the troublesome time on the island behind her. This section felt more like a contemporary mystery; I was slightly worried about how it would connect to the historical segments, but Lawrenson ties everything together beautifully in the end.
The second novella focuses on Marthe, a young blind woman living in southern France during WWII. Marthe stands out in my mind as an amazing character because of her ability to adapt and her courage. Marthe begins to lose her eyesight at the age of eleven. I cannot imagine having to endure something so difficult at such a young age - especially during a time when medical knowledge was more limited than it is today. Marthe's parents don't seem to know how to help their daughter so they send her to a school for the blind in a town far from her home; this choice will alter the course of Marthe's life. It gives her the chance to meet a family that runs a perfume business. Marthe relies heavily on her other senses to compensate for her lack of sight and soon finds that her careful attention to smell affords her a talent at perfume creation. Her occupation will allow her to be in a prime position to assist in the resistance movement in France after the Nazis take over the country.
Lastly, the third novella focuses on Iris, a young woman in London who works for a British intelligence agency during WWII. Iris is another strong female character who will linger with me; I admired her strength and tenacity. Iris' story largely focuses on her love affair with another member of the organization, Xavier.
While I didn't understand how all the pieces would weave together to form an intricate big picture, I trusted that Lawrenson had a plan. Her vision for the connections between these women and their stories is a thing of beauty. I am still in awe of how she delivered the stories and tied everything together. Lawrenson has also given me an intense desire to travel to the French locales in the book to the see them first hand. I highly recommend this one to lovers of historical fiction and those interested in learning more about women's experiences in WWII.
One Last Gripe: I did find that there were moments in the second novella that lagged a bit.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: The structure of the novel - it was unique, powerful, and compelling
First Sentence: The island lay in wait, a smudge of land across the water.
I was expecting The Things You Kiss Goodbye to be a contemporary romance with a few bumps in the road. The description alludes to some tragedy for Bettina, but my theories on what this could be where nowhere near the actual event. This novel was far more serious and depressing than I predicted. For that reason, it took me awhile to get through this one, and there were moments that I had to force myself to keep reading. The Things You Kiss Goodbye is well written and any faults with my experience are solely my own. I just was not in a place where I could appreciate a serious, depressing novel.
Bettina is one of those girls that is typically a fringe character. She doesn't crave the spotlight and she doesn't conform. The attention of handsome basketball superstar, Brady Cullen, pulls her into a world she never wanted to be part of and forces her into social spheres that are foreign territory. Bettina wasn't instantly likable. I had to work at forming a bond with her. By the end, my heart broke right along with hers and I found myself wishing that I could spend more time with her.
The relationship between Bettina and Brady was a difficult one for me, but I was impressed that Connor chose to go in the dysfunctional direction with these two. So often it seems that romance is written like a fairy tale where everything is sunshine and roses. That isn't realistic. Every relationship has its ups and downs. Some relationships are unhealthy. I think teens need to see an abusive, unhealthy relationship in their reading from time to time. Bettina and Brady made me angry. I wanted Bettina to stand up for herself and walk away from Brady's destructive behavior. I also never truly understood why Brady changed. He seemed like a charming, shy guy one minute and a holy terror the next.
Another dynamic that I enjoyed was the one between Bettina and her family. Bettina's parents are extremely strict and expect the family to adhere to specific schedules. I empathized with Bettina when she was trying to find herself and her own space in the world. She had so many conflicts with her parents as a result. There were moments when I felt like her parents, particularly her father, were too hard on her, but then there would be a moment when I could tell that their actions came from a place of love. I adored Bettina's younger brothers; these two helped serve as a little comic relief when the story got a bit too heavy.
Lastly, the relationship between Bettina and Cowboy was a bit awkward for me. Connor does a nice job of writing this connection, but I still couldn't fully buy into it. The age difference was a barrier I had trouble crossing.
In addition to the relationships, Connor also provides a commentary on bullying and double standards. Bettina is called horrible names and harassed once a rumor begins to swirl throughout the school about her while Brady is seen as a hero when his behavior is reprehensible on multiple occasions. I hate seeing female characters become targets for the masses. Sadly, this happens all too often in reality.
Overall, I felt like this one was an important read, but an extremely difficult one. Bettina does not have a life that I would want. So often I read as a means of escape from the daily stresses and strains of reality. This novel did not provide that escape, but it did force me to think about some difficult topics.
One Last Gripe: There were lots of slow moments in this one.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: The ending chapters - those sucked me in and helped me understand Bettina
First Sentence: The night I cut off my hair, my mother told my father to leave.
Favorite Character: This is difficult because they were all flawed, but I suppose I'd choose Cowboy.
This one was an unrequested gift from the publisher. I don't always have time to work those beauties in quickly, but this one called to me so I did my best to squeeze it in as soon as I possibly could. The Bees was supposed to be "The Handmaid's Tale meets The Hunger Games". While I haven't read The Handmaid's Tale, I love The Hunger Games. I decided something compared to a beloved series with insects as the characters was something I needed to read. I also expect that this one will also conjure memories of Animal Farm for many readers.
The Bees is a deviation from my standard reading fare. I don't often read adult literary fiction. Most of the adult titles I read are historical fiction, but I felt like I needed to push outside of my comfort zone. I did find that I couldn't be lazy with this one. There is so much going on and so many details to remember that you can't just glide pleasurably through this novel. It demands your attention from moment one.
The novel opens with the birth of Flora 717, a bee who is destined to be a sanitation worker. The social structure of the bees brought to mind the caste system of India. Bees are born into specific roles; change is an abnormality that is not allowed to flourish. Interaction between the bees is also determined by the hive's social hierarchy. Flora 717 immediately shows characteristics that set her apart from her kin. She becomes a symbol for change throughout the novel as she breaks all the molds and rules of the hive. I was in awe of her resilience and courage. She chose to stand up for herself and those she loved even when it meant a certain death.
I wasn't sure how I would enjoy a novel in which the main characters were bees, but I found that the author did a beautiful job of pulling me into this world and helping me visualize life in the hive. The beauty of this life is balanced by some gruesome moments and lack of freedom. As I read, I searched for parallels between Flora's world and human society: gender inequality and diversity were elements that continued to crop up for me.
Overall, I found this to be a novel that was both unique and thought provoking. I loved watching Flora adapt and strive to do her best for the hive. It was apparent that Laline Paull had done a vast amount of research and observation to make this novel feel authentic. I doubt I will ever be able to look at a bee without thinking of Flora and her sisters.
One Last Gripe: There were some moments that I wish had moved along a bit faster.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved getting to explore the hive and its social structure.
Dating is never easy, but it's even worse when you wake up next to a stranger and then find out you'll be working together. Attraction aside, Mia and Ethan are also competing for the same job. Could things get any more awkward? Boomerang is the perfect summer read with just the right amount of sugar and spice to battle the heat outside.
Mia is the sort of girl I wish I had been in my college years. She's grounded, goal oriented, and tenacious. She doesn't let anything stand in her way, but she still manages to do this in a non-bitchy way. I liked the strength that Mia exudes, but even she can become vulnerable when love is concerned. Mia comes from wealth, but she wishes to forge her own path in the world and not ride her famous mother's coattails.
Ethan is Mia's opposite from a socioeconomic standpoint. He comes from a working class family in Colorado and soccer was his ticket to UCLA. After an injury puts him on the sidelines permanently, Ethan decides that law school is the way to go, but he has to pay bills and put food on his table. He accepts an internship at Boomerang, an online dating site, in the hopes that it will turn into a paying gig that will put him one step closer to law school. Ethan is like a nestle crunch - he's sweet and satisfying, but there are hidden depths to him. Like Mia, he is goal oriented and tenacious. His sense of loyalty was admirable. And, I'll admit, he may be newest book boyfriend.
Sadly, the job at Boomerang keeps Mia and Ethan romantically apart. It's against company policy for co-workers to date. Since both of them want the job when the internship is over, they put aside their attraction and focus on business. That turns out to be harder than it seems. To make matters worse, their boss insists they use the dating site as field research. Mia and Ethan must suffer through watching each other on a series of dates with other people. Will this drive them to their breaking point? Is a job really worth denying what the heart wants?
I loved this novel; it was fun, hilarious, and swoon worthy. The characters - particularly Mia and Ethan - make this one of my favorite 2014 New Adult reads. I wanted to be friends with Mia and who wouldn't want someone like Ethan in their lives? It also doesn't hurt that I have been caught up in soccer fever with the World Cup; Ethan's former days playing and his little league coaching earned him major points in my book.
I also loved the relationships in Boomerang. Aside from Mia and Ethan, I really enjoyed the bonds between family and friends. Mia lives with two amazingly talented girls who always have her back. I love seeing strong female friendships in fiction. One segment really stuck in my brain as Mia thinks about her friends, "For the next hour, I watch my best friends: one of them onstage, transported, in love with what she's able to do, the other here with me, wearing an avid expression that tells me she's dreaming of her own turn in the spotlight. I want to thank them both for the awesome gift they give me every day. The gift of being kickass beautiful girls" (pg. 214). I think we should all be able to think of our friends in such a way.
In addition to the friendships, I was also drawn to the relationship between Mia and her Nana. These two share a special bond that even dementia cannot erase. There were some moments when they were together that I almost cried. The serious moments in this novel were just as important as the romance and the humor.
Overall, I loved my time spent with Ethan and Mia. I'm truly looking forward to the next novel. I can only hope that we'll get more of Mia and Ethan - even though the story isn't focused on them in the next installment. I also am really impressed that one of my favorite authors, Veronica Rossi, cowrote this with Lorin Oberweger. This is definitely different than Rossi's previous work and it was fun to see her step into a completely new genre.
I will leave you with one word of caution - since this is a NA novel, there are some intimate moments. I'm a "leave something to the imagination" sort so I have to admit that I was blushing through several of these encounters. For many readers, this will be no problem, but if you follow my school of thought, I just wanted you to be prepared.
One Last Gripe: I think Ethan overreacted a bit about the date mixup.
Favorite Thing About This Book: The characters
First Sentence: On the single most important day of my life, I wake with the thought: Oh, crap, where are my panties?
Favorite Character: It's a tie between Mia and Ethan.
I really enjoyed Hopkins' Temptation series so when she approached me about being part of this blog tour I couldn't resist. Hopkins does a beautiful job with immersing readers in the Amish culture. This novel does include the Amish again, but this is a very different group than the sort I got to know in the previous series. This community has darker secrets which makes the mystery in this one haunting and creepy.
The novel is told from three perspectives and from two time frames. At first, I found this to be a little confusing, but I quickly fell into a reading rhythm and made the transitions between the shifts easily. The past time frame focuses on the perspective of Naomi, the deceased girl, as she tells her story of the weeks leading up to her death. These segments provided a lot of clues and I found myself jotting down possible murder suspects each time I would read one of Naomi's sections. Naomi is full of life and adventurous. She craves the outside world and isn't sure that being Amish is the right path for her. I have often wondered if I would also feel as Naomi does if I was raised in this culture. I don't think that I could handle the way women are in charge of house and family, but aren't always treated as equals by the men in their community. The present sections are told from the perspectives of Serenity, the sheriff investigating Naomi's death, and Daniel, a former member of the Amish community. Daniel helps Serenity navigate the Amish culture and puts her in position to investigate what everyone believes was merely a hunting accident.
I really enjoyed piecing together the mystery and trying to identify the killer. It was interesting for me to see Hopkins write in a different genre and for an adult audience. I think she did a nice job crafting the mystery, but I was disappointed in the romance elements of the present time frame. It just seemed a little too predictable.
Overall, I enjoyed the time I spent reading Lamb to the Slaughter. (Is it sad that I kept looking for Noah - even though I knew he wouldn't appear?) I'd highly recommend it to those who are interested in murder mysteries. The Amish spin added an intriguing layer. I think Hopkins certainly has the potential to turn this one into a highly addicting series.
One Last Gripe: There were some typos, but I found that they didn't interrupt my reading.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved the combination of the Amish culture and the murder mystery
First Sentence: Hugging myself, I tried to stop shaking.
Favorite Character: Serenity
Least Favorite Character: Naomi's mother - ugh that woman(less)
I love Morgan Matson's writing; Amy & Roger's Epic Detour and Second Chance Summer have special places in my heart and on my shelf. I can't imagine my summer being complete without a new Matson novel to read or a revisit to old friends. I was excited to read this one the moment I heard about it. I love Matson's character-centric plots and summer influences.
Since You've Been Gone is the story of the friendship between Emily and Sloane. Some are lucky enough in life to have an epic friendship and these two girls have it in spades. They make each other better people, they have fun, and they provide a support system for one another. All of that changes when Sloane leaves town without telling Emily where she's going. Emily watches all of her amazing summer plans wither in the sun without Sloane. To make matters worse, Sloane won't answer her cell. Emily finally realizes that she's been abandoned and this might be the worst summer of her life, but all that changes when the list arrives. It's obvious that the list is from Sloane (she has really odd handwriting) and Emily can't help but think maybe this is the key to finding her BFF. The list sparks a summer journey that will help Emily gain confidence, make new friends, and see the world (and the people in it) a little differently.
I love that this novel is about a strong girl friendship. So often in YA novels, there is competition among girl friends or a lot of backstabbing takes place. Yes, that does happen, but I prefer to read about friendships that are more positive and supportive. That doesn't mean that Emily and Sloane don't have their problems, but I found that I enjoyed reading about those more knowing how devoted these two were to their friendship. With that being said, it did take me some time to settle into this one. In the beginning, I found Emily to be a stick in the mud who seemed a little too clingy where her BFF was concerned. I understood her being upset, but she wallowed in her misery a bit too much for my tastes. Emily did grow on me and by the end I was firmly on her side and invested in the story. On the other hand, I found Sloane's actions to be somewhat heartless and selfish. How could she just vanish with virtually no trace without telling Emily where she was going? There is a point where this question is answered, but I did spend a majority of the novel making predictions about this very topic. In addition to Emily and Sloane's friendship, I enjoyed the relationships with Frank, Collins, and Dawn.
I also love that while Matson does include romance in her novels that is not the driving force behind the story. Think of the romance as the sprinkles on the cupcake - it makes things fun and tasty, but the substance underneath is of more vital importance.
Lastly, I was ecstatic to see playlists in this one. That element is reminiscent of A&R and put a smile on my face.
Since You've Been Gone is the perfect summer read; it has just the right amount of angst, friendship, love, self discovery, and hot summer nights. This one reminds me that sometimes you just need to step out of your comfort zone to thrive.
P.S. - I couldn't help hearing the Kelly Clarkson song in my head as I read this. Now it'll be stuck in yours while you read. You're welcome.
One Last Gripe: The beginning was slow and it took some time to warm up to Emily.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: I love the list concept.
First Sentence: The list arrived after Sloane had been gone two weeks.
I won't be writing a full review since another Lark has already done that, but wow. I loved this book. It's beautiful, hilarious, and tragic. You simp...moreI won't be writing a full review since another Lark has already done that, but wow. I loved this book. It's beautiful, hilarious, and tragic. You simply must read this one if you haven't already. I'm at a loss for words. It was that good.(less)
Cinderella has long been one of my favorite fairy tales and the Disney version kept me mesmerized for hours as a child. Who wouldn't want Cinderella's life? But what if the story we always knew about the beautiful, overworked girl and her evil stepsisters wasn't exactly true? What if Cinderella was actually, in many ways, the annoying and obnoxious one? If you've ever wanted to hear a different version of Cinderella told from the perspective of one of the stepsisters - this is the read for you.
I was interested to see how Tracy Barrett would take the timeless tale and put her own spin on it. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't a petulant girl who refused to help with basic chores and couldn't handle being poor. I have always seen Cinderella as a resilient fighter who deserves her happily ever after. It took me awhile to warm up to the fact that this is not the Disney version and Cinderella is a spoiled brat. I spent the majority of the novel rolling my eyes and sighing loudly at her antics, but I did find that around the middle I started to warm up to her. I was also happy to see that by the end of the novel there are glimmers of the traits I loved in the Cinderella of my childhood.
As the title suggests, this isn't really a story about Cinderella, but rather about her stepsisters, Jane and Maude. The novel largely focuses on the perspective of Jane, the older of the sisters. Jane lives in a decrepit manor house in the forest. Her mother cannot let go of the family's glorious past, but the bank accounts have long since dried up. The house is crumbling around the family, but nothing can be done due to the lack of decay and the lack of funds. To make ends meet, Jane and Maude begin doing farm work, making cheese, and gathering berries and mushrooms. The level of poverty this family endures - particularly during the winter - was often difficult to read. I just kept waiting for that moment when the happy ending showed up. I rather enjoyed getting Jane's perspective; it was a new take on an old story that I wasn't expecting. The stepsisters are always portrayed to be the villains, but that wasn't the case in The Stepsister's Tale.
I did find that the beginning was somewhat slow and slightly boring. My mind kept drifting and I kept wondering when things would pick up a bit. I got my answer somewhere in the middle. Once Jane begins to visit the Foresters things picked up for me. I wish the entire novel had read like the middle and ending.
All in all, I really liked this one and would recommend it to those interested in a different perspective on Cinderella. I liked that Barrett forced me to think about how things are not always what they seem: the rich are not always happy, fairy godmothers may or may not exist, and the prince is not always charming. This would make a great read for middle school students as some of the characters are closer to their age and it's a squeaky clean read.
One Last Gripe: I was frustrated that Jane's mother didn't do more to help her girls. She was like an ostrich - she just kept burying her head in the sand and hoping that things would work out on their own.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: I like the commentary on social hierarchies and gender roles.
First Sentence: The house - it was too small to be called a palace - sat at the top of a hill, overlooking thick woods and a river.
Avery James isn't your average teenager. She is far more concerned with going to medical school and helping people in other countries than finding a prom date. In fact, she's so desperate to go on a trip to Costa Rica to work with doctors for the summer that she's willing to do practically anything to earn enough money to pay for her expenses. That is truly apparent as the novel opens with Avery dancing in a giant hot dog costume. I suppose one would have to be desperate for cash to subject oneself to such an embarrassing profession. Much to Avery's chagrin, her salary at the hot dog shop isn't going to be enough. She is $500 short of her dream summer, but things start to change when her former BFF, Hannah, approaches her with a proposition. Hannah wants Avery to somehow convince her boyfriend, Zac, to break up with her before prom. Avery is hesitant to get into a deal with Hannah, but the payoff is $500. Avery throws aside her doubts and launches a plot to separate Zac and Hannah.
Avery isn't sure how she is going to manage the breakup - especially because she looks at love in a scientific manner - but she decides that she has to resort to drastic measures. As the novel progresses, Avery begins to understand that love is about a lot more than just biology. I really enjoyed watching her mature and start to see the world differently.
I did have some trouble liking Avery at first. She's so sure of everything and analyzes every detail of life. I understood where she was coming from, but it made her seem abrasive at times. I also felt like she lacked maturity in some ways. Some of the dialogue and moments in this one felt more middle school than high school. Avery's social sphere is limited when the novel begins which could explain why she didn't always feel like a high school student to me. Her aspirations and work ethic were admirable and helped to offset some of the immaturity in the beginning.
On the other hand, I adored Zac. He was an intriguing character who always tries to find the fun in life. I think sometimes people like this can be seen as class clowns, but really he was running from some pretty serious issues. Zac personifies the notion that being happy and positive can give one a better outlook on life. I also think this attitude is what allows Zac to be such an understanding and forgiving character. He is certainly what kept me reading.
All in all, I really enjoyed this "cotton candy" read - it's sweet, wholesome, and easy to read. Novels like this one are just what I'm looking for to pass the time as the weather heats up and summer approaches.
One Last Gripe: I did finding the ending to be a bit too predictable.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: I like how Zac helps Avery reflect on her own life. He provides a mirror that helps her see who she really wants to be in many ways.
First Sentence: If there was one thing I hated more than anything else in the world, it was Giant Hot Dog Day.
It's no secret that I am a HUGE fangirl when it comes to the Chicagoland Vampires series. I LOVE and ADORE these novels and the characters that inhabit them. While Merit will always be my favorite character in the series, I do appreciate the supporting characters as well. I was excited to see that Jeff was going to get his own novella. Jeff is such an endearing character with a big heart. His nerdiness and geeky humor also keep me smiling anytime I spend time with Chicagoland.
This short little morsel gives readers an inside look at the relationship between Jeff and Fallon. I love this couple and kept rooting for things to work out for them. While Fallon is attracted to Jeff, she chooses not to pursue her feelings due to family obligations. Fallon is next in line for leader of the pack and that comes with a heavy burden. As a female, she must marry a shifter that is the same species as her. This poses a problem for Fallon and Jeff's budding romance. Fallon is a wolf, but Jeff is a tiger. It was interesting to watch this unfold and reminded me of multiracial couples. Couples that have different ethnicities often face discrimination and disapproval.
Will Jeff get the wolf of his dreams? I suppose you'll just have to read this one to find out.
I can only hope that eventually some of the other supporting characters will get their own stories - even if it is only in novella form. Can I request a Mallory/Catcher story? I love those two!(less)
I have loved Sarah Strohmeyer's previous YA novels so I was super excited to read this one. I was also intrigued that this one had a darker feel to it than her previous ones. Typically Strohmeyer's heroines are sweet, down-to-earth sorts with great hearts. Lily Graves has those qualities, but she also adds some new layers to the mix.
Lily lives in a funeral home with her mother, grandmother, and aunt. Being constantly surrounded by death effects people in different ways. Lily's mother has become a health nut in order to extend her life as much as possible. Boo, Lily's aunt, uses tattoos as her coping mechanism. Lily becomes fascinated with the dead and how different cultures view this human rite of passage. She wears mainly shades of black and gray, has an intimate knowledge of human anatomy (particularly concerning where best to place embalming needles), and a desire to take over the family business someday. While Lily's preoccupation with death may seem creepy, it really isn't. Lily isn't a goth or an attention seeker. She dresses and acts the way she does because it is something that genuinely interests her. I was thrown at first because Lily is so different from the past Strohmeyer characters in appearance, but I quickly learned that she has the same intellect, compassion, and strength of character that I have grown to expect from the females in Strohmeyer's novels.
I tend to gravitate towards novels with strong female characters and strong female relationships. There is plenty on both fronts in this novel. I loved the bond between Lily and the women in her family. It was interesting to see the different generations living in one household.
In addition, I also enjoyed the romance in this one. It felt realistic and didn't happen suddenly. It was also nice that it didn't dominate the plot. I prefer when the romance enhances a novel rather than commandeering it.
The plot of this one is intriguing. A local girl, Erin, who was considered by many to be "a perfect angel" has shown up dead. Originally it is thought that she committed suicide, but an investigation reveals that she was murdered. All eyes immediately turn to Lily Graves and her friend, Matt, the former boyfriend of the deceased. Lily and Matt have been spending a lot of time together studying US History and rumors swirl around the town that Matt was cheating on Erin. The closeness between Lily and Matt makes them suspects. The pair decides to take matters into their own hands and find out what really happened to Erin and who is responsible for her untimely death.
I will say this novel freaked me out on a few occasions; I preferred reading it during daylight hours. I did figure out the identity of the murderer fairly quickly, but I am not sure all readers will arrive at the correct conclusion as quickly.
Overall, I really enjoyed this one, but it isn't my favorite Strohmeyer novel. (That honor still resides with Smart Girls Get What They Want.) I loved seeing this author go in a different direction; it truly shows her skills and versatility as a writer.
One Last Gripe: Erin's attitude towards Lily bothered me - especially as information was revealed throughout the novel. It also irked me that more was not done about the bullying issues that flared up from time to time.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: I enjoyed forming a theory about the identity of the killer and piecing together evidence to prove it.
There is something about a Jennifer E. Smith novel that lures me into the story and refuses to let me go. She writes the sort of stories that make me want to curl up and live within the pages. Her characters are richly complex and often have to face some major challenges to be together. In addition, I loved the settings in this one; I particularly enjoyed the segments in Seattle, Edinburgh, and London. I am now craving a trip to each of those cities.
The Geography of You and Me was interesting because while it is a love story, the two main characters aren't in one another's presence very long. This was certainly a unique spin on contemporary romance. I was worried this was just going to be a lot of emails and phone calls, but the long distance relationship between Lucy and Owen does not run a smooth course. In fact, I had some serious doubt that this was a romance for quite a significant portion of the book. Lucy and Owen are on their own adventures that are happening simultaneously but thousands of miles apart. Long distant relationships suck and pose problems that don't effect couples who live in the same area. It was interesting to watch Lucy and Owen grapple with their feelings and the distance.
In addition to the romance aspects, I really enjoyed the family dynamics of both Lucy and Owen. Lucy constantly feels like she is invisible; her parents are off traveling most of the time and her older brothers have left for college. She is in many ways an adult as she lives in NYC and takes care of herself. My heart broke for her throughout the beginning of the novel, but I was happy to see her parents wake up and start paying attention to what was best for their daughter. In addition, a similar process happens with Owen. He and his dad are still reeling from the unexpected death of his mother; they are both foundering. Their journey is one that allows them to work through their grief and strengthen their relationship. Owen's dad also has a few moments where he realizes that he needs to pay more attention to his son's feelings.
On a side note, I also loved Lucy's constant reading. Books are her companions throughout this novel. I loved seeing a character who was as passionate about reading as I am.
While I did enjoy this one and the messages it get across about fate, living life to the fullest, and human connections, I was a little irked about the ending. I felt like there were still so many unanswered questions. I really wanted to know what was in the future for Lucy and Owen. I also wished that I had gotten to spend more time with each character. I felt like the novel scratched the surface of their lives, but I wanted more. I found Lucy's sections to be more appealing and I wanted to know more about what was happening for her in Edinburgh and London.
Overall, I really enjoyed this one and read it largely in one sitting. I found it was the perfect way to start my Spring Break.
One Last Gripe: It bothered me that Owen stopped responding to Lucy when he arrived in Lake Tahoe. I didn't really buy his reasoning.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved the evolution of Lucy.
First Sentence: On the first day of September, the world went dark.
Favorite Character: Lucy
Least Favorite Character: I didn't have one.(less)
I'm not typically a middle grades reader. In fact, I loved the cover of this one so much I snagged it before I realized it was a middle grades novel. I really should take a chance on more of these as they are something I could talk to my students about more than some of the upper YA stuff. The Swap was an excellent way to dive into middle grades and get a feel for this age group. Also, after teaching 7th and 8th graders for so long, I can firmly say that this novel portrays middle schoolers in a realistic and authentic way. Shull has captured the essence of the middle school experience beautifully in all of its bittersweet glory.
The Swap is Mean Girls meets Freaky Friday with a dash of The Mighty Ducks. Seriously, if this novel had existed when I was in middle school, I would have been all about it. No friend of mine would have gotten away with not reading this one. I did find that as an adult, I didn't love this one the way I love YA novels, but I did enjoy it. I love that there is a female main character, Ellie, and a male main character, Jack. It's so hard to find novels to hand to my male students from time to time. I think this novel will appeal to both genders and I love the messages it contains on topics such as bullying, giving your best, and finding true friends.
Ellie is getting ready to enter the 7th grade without her best friend. Sassy, her former BFF, has decided she is too cool for Ellie these days and she never misses an opportunity to let Ellie know exactly how she feels. Sassy is the sort of girl who makes me cringe; she flings insults and chooses to put people down to make herself feel better. I loved that most of the characters in the novel were not fooled by her and even the male characters realized that she was only pretty until she opened her mouth. Ellie, on the other hand, can't stop wishing that Sassy was her friend again - no matter how horrible Sassy treats her. In the beginning of the novel, Ellie is shy and unsure of herself. She doesn't truly see the beautiful and talented individual she is, but rather she sees herself as unworthy and unfriendable. She chooses to hide from her problems rather than tackle them head on.
The other main character, Jack, is going into 8th grade and he's the boy ever girl dreams about at night. He's handsome, smart, nice, and one heck of a hockey player. The girls even refer to Jack as "The Prince", but he's so shy around the opposite sex that he has no idea he is the object of every female's affection. Jack is also struggling at home after the death of his mother. His dad is withdrawn and expects a lot out of Jack and his three older brothers. Even though Jack's dad is always pushing the boys to be the best and his heart is in the right place, I felt bad for Jack. There is so much pressure on him and nothing ever seems good enough.
Things change drastically for Ellie and Jack on the first day of school. Bad decisions land them both in the nurses office where they lament that the other gender has life so much easier. Moments later they realize that they have swapped bodies. Ellie must live Jack's life and he must live hers. Both of them will realize that the grass isn't always greener on the other side. This experience will change them both for the better and help them appreciate their lives and families.
I think this is a valuable novel for middle school kids. While it irked me that Sassy was such a jerk, her behavior is sadly something lots of kids have to deal with during their school career. There are some valuable lessons about how to handle bullying in this one that I think would be beneficial for younger adolescents. I also think the messages about true friendship and loyalty are important. I'll certainly be recommending this one when school starts again in a few weeks.
One Last Gripe: This one seemed a bit long for a middle grades novel.
Favorite Thing About The Book: I loved the ending - it was exactly how I wanted things to end up.
First Sentence: It's sunny and it's summer and the three of us are sitting on the scratchy cement edge of the Riverside Swim Club pool, dangling our feet into the deep end.
Tease is a difficult novel to read, but one that is extremely important. Bullying in schools has always been an issue, but it seems to be more prevalent with the age of social media. Social media allows many teens to hide behind their computer screens while they spout hurtful things they probably wouldn't say in person. Novels that provide commentary on bullying are relevant and necessary.
Tease focuses on Sara Wharton and how she deals with the aftermath of a classmate's suicide. The loss of Emma Putnam isn't merely a tragedy, but one that was caused by the treatment she received by many at her new high school. Emma chooses to end her life rather than continue to deal with the constant harassment and rumors. My heart broke for Emma and her parents.
I found this to be difficult to read at first because I didn't like Sara at all. Like many of the people around her, I was judging her based on her spiteful actions. As the novel progressed, I learned to understand Sara a bit more. She had been hurt by Emma, but that didn't give her the right to be so hateful. I did appreciate that Sara does grow throughout this novel and I feel like she comes out of everything a better person in spite of the horrendous road that leads her to her new sense of self.
I can recall how mean some of the girls were in high school. I wish that this trend didn't exist anymore, but sadly it continues to thrive. The feminist in me grew angrier every time one of the female characters would put Emma down. The words they use to describe her are never acceptable. Why are women judged to be the vixens in every situation? I didn't see very many people blaming the male characters in this novel. For example, one character cheats on his significant other multiple times in the novel, and everyone still thinks he's a great guy while the girls involved are branded with hateful names. This double standard, while realistic, turns my stomach.
I can only hope this novel will teach people to think about their words and actions; we all need to consider how we can impact the lives of those around us. Tease is one of those novels that will be on your mind long after you have read the last sentence.
One Last Gripe: Sara frustrated me for a large portion of the novel. I wanted her to stand up to her friends and do what was right. I also had trouble feeling sorry for her.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: I liked that the novel bounced between the past and present.
First Sentence: "Did you ever have a physical confrontation with Miss Putnam?"
Favorite Character: Carmichael
Least Favorite Characters: There were so many who angered me, but Dylan irked me the most in many ways. Brielle was also one I found distasteful.(less)
I was initially attracted to Don't Call Me Baby because of the blog aspect. As a blogger, I was interested to read about how blogging impacted the family dynamic. My family is lucky that I blog about books and not about my day to day life - not that I would have anything negative to write about my family, but it would be odd to expose all of their business for the entire world to read.
I went into this one planning to be firmly on Imogene's side. As the daughter of a mommy blogger, she has grown up in front of a digital audience. Growing up is difficult enough, but I cannot imagine all of my happy moments and embarrassing moments being broadcasted for public consumption. As much as I love technology, I am happy that my teen years were experienced before social media and iphones. Growing up in this era presents a set of challenges that I never fathomed. However, as the novel progressed, I begin to understand Meg, Imogene's mother, a little more. I found that both Imogene and Meg were both at fault in the tension in their relationship.
In addition to the blogging and mother/daughter relationship, I also enjoyed the friendship between Imogene and Sage. I think the evolution of their friendship was realistic and sent a powerful message. I remember as a teen that it was always hard for me to accept when my friends grew and changed because it always impacted our friendship. I was resistant to change and in some ways I still have trouble handling it, but it is a part of life. I liked see two girls who are able to grow and still remain friends.
Overall, I found this to be a cute, fun read that had some important undertones. I was expecting a fluffy, cotton candy read. There were certainly those moments, but this one is also an important look at family and friendship. I also enjoyed that this one would appeal to younger teens as well since the main character is 15; it's also a clean read with some great messages.
One Last Gripe: There were moments when I was so frustrated with Imogene or her mother that I wanted to stop reading. I'm glad I battled through their whining and self absorbed moments.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved the moments between Imogene and her family that happened outside of the blog. One of my favorite scenes was the one on the beach with Imogene, her dad, and her grandmother.
First Sentence: Do you know what it's like to be recognized at the mall by random moms pushing strollers when you're just trying to hang out with your friends?
Favorite Character: Imogene
Least Favorite Character: I didn't dislike anyone. By the end, I had learned to understand each of the characters.(less)
I originally was over the moon excited about reading this one: a Kentucky feud, a family with criminal connections, starcrossed lovers - sign me up! My enthusiasm began to wane a bit when I saw some of the mediocre ratings on Goodreads. I should have trusted my first instinct and read this one when I originally purchased it in April. I ended up loving The Lonesome Young and I cannot wait to have the next installment in my hands.
The Lonesome Young focuses on the romance of Victoria Whitfield and Mickey Rhodale. The two face their fair share of problems - mainly a decades long feud between their two families. Nobody wants to see these two together, but I couldn't help rooting for them. I loved them both! I also enjoyed the rotating chapters so I could get both perspectives. It's nice to be able to roam around more than one character's consciousness.
Victoria is ripped from her Connecticut boarding school and forced to return home to Kentucky after financial trouble forces her family to move in with her grandmother who owns a successful horse farm in the country. Victoria doesn't know what to expect from the town or its residents, but she knows it will be nothing like what she was used to at boarding school or in Louisville. To make matters worse, Victoria's family is self destructing before her eyes: her parents are on the road to divorce, the family is drained of financial resources, and her older sister is quickly becoming an addict. Victoria is left to clean up the pieces each time someone makes a mess in their lives. As a result, Victoria has grown up quickly. I was sad that her childhood wasn't a pleasant one, but I did admire her strength and resiliency.
In addition, I admired and respected Mickey as well. He hasn't always been given a fair shake due to the actions of his brothers and father. Mickey is seen as a violent troublemaker. He is never given the benefit of the doubt and often suffers because of the choices his family makes. My heart broke each time Mickey was treated unfairly because he is a good guy; he only wants to protect those he cares about from harm. Mickey helps me to remember not to judge a book by its cover (or its relatives). I have always been drawn to the misunderstood, bad boy types in fiction. I loved watching this character evolve over the course of the story.
The emphasis on familiar relationships in this novel struck a chord with me. Most of the relationships are dysfunctional in many ways, but there are also others that serve as positive models. The relationship between Mickey and his mother as well as the one between Victoria and her grandmother stand out in my mind because they are supportive and loving. These are the sort of relationships that I admire. The older women support the younger person even when they don't agree with their decisions. That is something I find hard to do in my own life, but seeing it play out so beautifully in fiction inspires me to make more of an effort.
Lastly, I was swept away by the romance in this one. There were some rough patches that made me cringe, but overall I was lost to the rolling hills of Kentucky and these two courageous, stubborn youths. I thought this one was going to end on a cliffhanger, but thankfully Connors didn't do that to her readers. There is closure, but this story is far from over.
One Last Gripe: The back and forth between Victoria and Mickey gave me emotional whiplash. It also felt repetitive.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: I liked the feud and found the darker elements of the story to help it stand apart from other contemporary romances.
First Sentence: Sometimes even other people's failures can taste like shame in the back of your throat.
Favorite Character: It's a tie between Mickey and Victoria.
I was hesitant about this one because the cover seemed a little cheesy, but the Norse Mythology aspect won me over in the end. I love learning more about Norse lore. It's not as common in novels and I have always found it fascinating. I loved the Stork series by Wendy Delsol, Valkyrie Rising by Ingrid Paulson, and The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton. I was interested to see how Rinda Elliott would put her own spin on the lore.
Foretold largely focuses on the story of Raven and Vanir. Raven is the oldest in a group of triplets. She and her sisters shelter spirits of the Norn, reincarnated souls of powerful Norse Goddesses. An ancient prophecy foretells that one of the girls will be killed by her nineteen birthday at the hands of one of the warriors. Raven's mother has been researching and preparing to stop this event from occurring, but when she goes missing, the girls realize she's found the warriors and is targeting each one. Each of the girls goes off to search for a warrior in order to offer him protection and assistance. The girls want to live, but not at the expense of having innocent blood on their mother's hands and their consciences.
Raven ends up in Oklahoma where she meets Vanir, a gorgeous guy who has healing powers in his hands and is followed by two overly protective wolves. Raven knows Vanir is the warrior she has been seeking. A tale full of magic, romance, and adventure begins the moment these two meet.
I loved the Norse aspects of this one and found I was introduced to things I didn't know. This novel revolves heavily around Ragnarok aka "The End of the World". Snowstorms in summer, blazing fires, and massive waves are plaguing the world and it seems this is only the beginning. Things are going to get a lot worse and soon if Raven and her sisters cannot stop it. I think its pretty awesome that the fate of the world rests on the shoulders of three talented sisters. I love when strong females get to save the day.
My biggest complaint with this one was the instalove. I understood that there were supernatural forces at work and Vanir is attractive on many levels, but it just seemed too sudden. I will say Raven and Vanir have to face some rough moments together so I could see how it would draw them closer. I just wanted more build up.
All in all, I loved this one and had a blast reading it. There were moments that made me laugh, cringe, swoon, and cheer. I'm so excited to read the next story which will tell Coral's story. I hope that even though they won't be the main focus that Raven and Vanir will also make appearances.
One Last Gripe: I felt the characters made some stupid decisions at times. If a crazy woman was hell bent on my destruction I certainly wouldn't leave the security of my home and the protection of my family to go visit a rune-stone in the middle of nowhere.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: The Norse Mythology
First Sentence: Three days after the end of the world began I had two choices - drive into a river or hit a deer.
The Titanic disaster has long been an area of fascination for me. I was only three year old when the wreckage was found, but once I got a little older I watched all the documentaries and read everything I could find. Middle school brought along the chance to study the tragedy in more depth for a project. I was hooked and wanted to learn all I could about the "unsinkable" ship, the lack of safety preparation, and the lives of the souls on board. As an adult, I still enjoy learning more about the human side of the disaster. When the publisher approached me about participating in this blog tour, I jumped at the chance simply because it was a historical fiction that focused on the Titanic. I am so glad that I spent time with this novel. Maggie's story is one that will remain etched on my memory for some time.
I loved that The Girl Who Came Home focused on characters in the third class. These people were not the wealthy socialites and business tycoons that dominated the first class. Many of the passengers in steerage were immigrating to the United States with the hopes of beginning a better life than the one they left behind in Europe. There were strict social classes during the early 1900's and the attitude of the elite to the yeoman classes was often upsetting. So many Titanic stories focus on those with wealth and privilege. It was nice to hear about the event from a different angle. I was also intrigued to learn that the story is based in part on a true story. The authenticity of the events and characters makes this novel compelling and heartfelt.
In addition to the subject matter, I also enjoyed the format of the novel. The timeline shifts from 1912 to the 1980's. This allows the reader to learn about Maggie's story in the past and present gradually. I liked that it wasn't told in a linear fashion; it allowed some mystery to linger until the final chapters. In addition to the time shifts, I also enjoyed seeing the telegrams, letters, and diary entries. I applaud Hazel Gaynor for choosing to make this a complex narrative that beautifully commemorates the lives of the Irish immigrants. I was entranced by this novel.
Overall, I found this to be an enjoyable, bittersweet story about the struggle to begin anew in the face of tragedy and the power of love. The human spirit is resilient; Maggie's story reminds me of that. I also walked away from this one thinking about the comments made by so many concerning life. It truly is precious and moments should not be wasted. I highly recommend this one to fans of historical fiction, complex narratives, and those interested in learning more about the tragic fate of the Titanic.
One Last Gripe: I wish that I had gotten more of a sense of closure about the people from Ballysheen who did not survive the sinking. I felt by not knowing exactly how they met their end that things were left unresolved. This is realistic as many people never learned exactly what happened to their loved ones on that chilly April night in the Northern Atlantic.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved hearing from a voice that would have been largely unheard during the time period of the story. Maggie is not only young and female, but she came from a lower social class.
First Sentence: Maggie Murphy stood alone and unnoticed on the doorstep of the thatched stone cottage that three generations of her family called home.
Favorite Character: Maggie
Least Favorite Character: Bruce Ismay - although he never truly makes an appearance, he is only mentioned(less)
On the Fence was my first experience reading Kasie West's work; I can't believe I waited so long! (I immediately juggled my July review schedule to fit in The Distance Between Us upon finishing this one.) I finished this in less than 24 hours because I couldn't put it down. Every spare moment I had was devoted to burying myself in my Kindle to spend time with Charlie (aka Charlotte), the brothers, and Braden. I am enamored with these characters. If I was still a teenager, this is the house I would want to live in. The relationships (familial, friendship, and romantic) are the driving force behind this novel and one of its biggest strengths.
Charlie hasn't had it easy growing up in a house with only males. Her mother died when she was six and Charlie can barely remember her. All of her memories from her youth feature her Dad and her brothers prominently, but she can't figure out why her mother doesn't stand out in any of them. Charlie believes that she's damaged goods because she doesn't know how to be a "girl". She spends her time playing sports with her brothers and the boy next door, Braden, who she considers to be another member of her family. Everything changes the summer Charlie turns sixteen. After one too many speeding tickets, her father insists that she find a job to pay off her infractions. A chance encounter lands Charlie a job working in a boutique and serving as a canvas for makeup consultants. Charlie can't really understand how she went from soccer cleats and basketball camp to floral designs and mascara, but she learns that maybe she can still hold on to herself and embrace her femininity.
I adored Charlie and saw a bit of my teenage self reflected in her. I was also a tomboy and would much rather spend my time playing/watching sports than shopping or trying out new eyeshadow. It was always easier for me be "just one of the guys" than worry about being one of the polished, perfect girls. However, like Charlie, I always doubted that I could be friends with those sorts of girls because we'd have nothing in common. We share some of the same self doubt issues, but ultimately we end up landing on our feet.
In addition to Charlie, I loved her family and Braden. It's been awhile since I have loved every single character in a novel. I could easily see myself being friends with any of these people. My favorite brother was Gage because he kept me laughing. Jerom and Nathan are also endearing in their own ways. But the guy who really stole the show was Braden. Where were the guys like him when I was in high school? The banter between him and Charlie was one of my favorite parts of the novel. I also enjoyed their more serious moments by the fence.
If you're looking for a summer romance, this is a must read! It has everything I was looking for in a contemporary read this summer: romance, friendship, hot weather, and discussions with the moon. I found this one to be slightly reminiscent of The Hundred Oak Series by Miranda Kenneally - that is a high level of praise coming from me because I am a huge fan of that series. I love seeing girls that are real, down to earth, and into sports. It makes my heart happy. This one has earned a spot of honor on my contemporary favorites shelf alongside Anna and the French Kiss, Catching Jordan, and The Art of Lainey.
One Last Gripe: I don't have one. This is my new book crush.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: The characters
First Sentence: The engine whined against my attempt to go faster.
The WWI era is not one of my areas of historical expertise, but I am fascinated by what was happening on the home-front during this time period. One of the major aspects of 1918 is the Spanish Influenza outbreak. One of my favorite reads of 2013 was In the Shadow of Blackbirds which approaches the outbreak from a paranormal angle. I was excited to read a pure historical fiction approach. I wanted to know more about the outbreak and the medical practices of the time period.
I was shocked to learn of how quickly the disease spread throughout the United States. Many people thought the disease would be contained within the eastern portion of the country. In fact, the main character, Cleo Berry, states, "A particularly fierce strain of flu, it had made its way down the eastern seaboard, sending entire families to the hospitals, crippling the military training bases. The newspapers were filled with gruesome tales from Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. Cities so far away, they could have been part of another country. But that was the extent of it. We were safe here in Oregon. In Portland. The Spanish flu had no interest in the Northwest states" (ARC, pg. 6). I was somewhat shocked by how so many people in the novel seemed to follow this mindset; there were few characters who seemed to be overly anxious by the news stories from other states.
The medical history was fascinating. I found it heartbreaking that they didn't have a cure or a vaccine for the Spanish Influenza. These are things that we take for granted in our current society. I would have been terrified to live during 1918. More people died from the Spanish Influenza than the Bubonic Plague; this little detail blew my mind. The text is littered with factoids that I gobbled up like Skittles. I was impressed with Lucier's ability to meld fact and fiction.
The historical pieces are strong and appealing, but I also enjoyed the fictional aspects. Cleo first appears to be a little whiny and headstrong. It soon becomes clear that Cleo is desperately seeking her identity. She is envious of her classmates who have future plans; she has no idea what she wants to do with her life. Things are disrupted when the flu descends on Portland. Cleo's independent streak shines through when she sneaks away from her school to stay alone at her home. She goes against everything society tells her a well education girl from a wealthy family should be. She chooses to ignore the instructions of Jack, her older brother and guardian, in order to become a volunteer for the Red Cross.
Cleo's experiences working for the Red Cross are bittersweet. There were moments that I was in awe of her bravery, moments I felt a kinship with her, and moments that made me bawl like a baby. In spite of the difficult moments, there were moments of happiness. I loved the friendship that develops between Cleo and Kate. There is also a romance that develops for Chloe that was sweet and realistic. I liked that even though this happens over a short time span that the romantic feelings take time to develop. I understand that sometimes tragic circumstances can bring people closer in a shorter time frame. The time frame did not bother me in the slightest.
A Death-Struck Year has easily earned a spot on my 2014 favorites shelf. I immediately pre-ordered a hardcover copy the moment I finished the ARC.
One Last Gripe: This was an ARC I had to read on my laptop using Adobe Digital Editions. I find this highly annoying; I would much rather read a physical copy or on my Kindle.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved learning more about the Spanish Influenza and the medical practices in the early 1900's.
First Sentence: In the coming weeks, I would wish that I had done things differently.
I honestly thought Nantucket Blue was a standalone novel so I was surprised to see this one pop up on NetGalley. I enjoyed the first one so much I knew that I needed to continue with Cricket's story. Nantucket Red is a little odd because unlike the first novel, this one begins in Rhode Island and not at the beach. Cricket has just had one of the best summers of her life: she fell in love, worked for a talented writer, made new friends, and began to mend some old fences. As summer fades away and real life invades, Cricket realizes that sometimes perfect summers do not translate when the crisp fall air begins to blow. Everything seems to be changing and Cricket isn't sure she likes that, but the worst possible thing happens when Zack decides to go away to boarding school. Cricket can't stand the thought of not being with him, but she isn't sure a long distance relationship is a great idea. She convinces Zack that they need to take a "pause" in their relationship. She doesn't realize that might mean that the two of them will grow apart.
When I realized that Cricket and Zack wouldn't be a couple in this novel, my heart sank a little. I loved their relationship in the first novel and I didn't want to see that fall apart. Based on the Goodreads description, I knew this was going to happen and I was prepared to make Zack the villian, but I found that Cricket is just as much to blame for the crumbling relationship. In many ways, she is the one who pushes Zack away and into the arms of another girl. I did enjoy watching Cricket grow in this novel. She isn't the same girl I met in the first chapter of Nantucket Blue and she is in a state of constant evolution. By the end of this one, I was happy with the direction Cricket was headed. She seems to be more poised and mature; she has a plan. I was frustrated with some of Cricket's choices before this mature takes hold - the most notable example is her relationship with Ben.
In addition, I love the female friendships in this series. It was nice to see Cricket and Jules begin to repair their friendship. I certainly preferred the Jules in this edition to the one from the first novel. Liz is also back in this one and she becomes an even better friend to Cricket. I wish that I had someone like Liz in my corner.
Despite having some moments that made my heart ache and my stomach churn, I ended up enjoying this one. I was pleasantly surprised by the ending and I think a lot of fans from the first novel will end up appreciating the path that Howland carved for Cricket this time around. I will say this one read more like a New Adult in many parts. This is partially due to the fact that Cricket is older and she's focused on her post high school years. I certainly wouldn't be able to recommend this one to younger teens.
All in all, I feel like this series is a strong example of a summer romance. It has attractive people, swoon inducing moments, summer sun, ocean waves, and a strong sense of fun. I'm not sure if there will be more books, but if there are, sign me up. I'll be one of the first to head to Nantucket to find out what is next for Cricket. Yet again, I am craving a vacation.
One Last Gripe: The same raunchy humor that bugged me in the first novel makes several appearances in this one as well.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: I love the emphasis on change and growth.
First Sentence: I never liked the last few days of summer vacation.
Favorite Character: Cricket
Least Favorite Character: Ben - there was just something about him that irked me(less)
My initial impulse to pick this one up was the setting. Since taking an Appalachian Literature class in college, I have always loved reading about the people and culture of the region. My family is also deeply connected to the mountains of western North Carolina and I attended college in the small town of Mars Hill, the setting of The Cove. This was my first experience reading Ron Rash's work and I was impressed by how he brings the heartbreak, poverty, joy, and simplicity of mountain life in the early 1900's off the page and into the reader's consciousness. I was mesmerized and immersed from the opening chapter. I should warn you that while I loved this one, it wasn't a happy and uplifting tale. There is a lot of sorrow and tragedy buried within these pages. There were several moments that were difficult for me to read and a few tears were shed. Prepare your heart and mind before embarking on this journey.
Mountain people are a superstitious lot - even in modern times - so I felt like the beliefs surrounding the cove seemed authentic. The people of Mars Hill and the surrounding areas believe that nothing can prosper in the cove. Hank and Laurel, a brother and sister, live within the dark confines of the cove. Both have lived through more tragedy than anyone deserves by the time they have reached their twenties. To make matters worse, Laurel has a large purple birthmark which has townspeople labeling her as a witch. Hank has a better experience with the town after coming home a wounded war hero. As WWI continues to rage, Hank and Laurel try to survive the prejudices and superstitions of their small mountain town.
Things begin to change for Laurel when Walter, a mute young man, arrives in the cove. Walter is handsome and helpful, but he is hiding a dark secret that would see him at the end of a rope or bullet if anyone in town knew the truth. By staying with Hank and Laurel, Walter puts a target on their backs, but circumstances and his growing feelings for Laurel keep him in the cove.
I don't want to say anything more about the plot for fear that I spoil the read for someone. I will say it was tragically beautiful and one that still haunts me.
I highly recommend this one to fans of Historical Fiction and Appalachian Literature. The Cove will also appeal to those who are interested in the homefront experience in WWI. I purchased Serena as soon as I finished this one; I'm impressed by the historical and cultural components of Rash's writing.
One Last Gripe: It bothered me how horribly Laurel was treated by the people in her community. It broke my heart.
Favorite Thing About The Book: I loved the moments at the college. It was fun to try to visualize how things that are so familiar to me may have looked in the WWI era.
First Sentence: The truck's government tag always tipped them off before his Kansas accent could.