This rounds out my week of Debbie Macomber Christmas novels. I wasn't originally planning to review this one today, but I finished it rather quickly and decided it was fitting to review it the same week as the other titles. Merry and Bright is my last Macomber story of the holidays (at least for this year) and it was the perfect note to savor as I move on to other authors and novels for the remainder of 2017. It has become tradition for Macomber to write a Christmas story each year and this is her offering for 2017. I can't wait to see what she has in store for readers in 2018.
Merry Knight is a twenty four year old who is living with a lot of responsibility on her shoulders. Her mother suffers from MS and can't do all the things she once did which means that Merry has tried to do as much of the household chores as possible. Merry's younger brother, Patrick, has Downs Syndrome and is a big help to his family, but also has lots of events and school functions to attend. To make matters more complicated, Merry's dad travels throughout the state for work, leaving her to keep everything running smoothly during the week. Merry has put her personal goals on hold so that she can work to help the family with finances. Her family is her whole world and she would do anything for them. Working long hours and caring for her family keep Merry's days full so she doesn't have time to date and spend time with people her own age. Throughout everything, Merry truly lives up to her name. She always has a smile ready and she is so patient with everyone. The one person who seems to get her dander up is boss, Jayson.
Jayson Bright hasn't had a warm and cozy family life. His parents have been through multiple marriages and traded him back and forth like a possession during his youth. He always felt like more of an inconvenience than a son, but summer camps and boarding schools taught him to be resilient and to let nothing stand in his way. Jayson has climbed the ranks of his uncle's consulting firm and has eyes on even higher steps in the future. He just needs to get a major project finished to impress upon his uncle that Jayson is the sort that can run the firm when he retires. As a result, Jayson has become a workaholic and put in place mandatory overtime until the project is completed. His seen as strict rule follower around the office which is just fine by him as long as the work gets done.
Merry and Jayson couldn't be more different. There run-ins at work have never gone well, leaving one or both of them frustrated. Can these two ever come to see the positives about one another or will they keep butting heads until Merry's temporary position ends on December 23?
If you've ever been so busy you didn't think you had time for a social life, then this is the holiday read for you. It involves a sweet romance, online dating, and Seattle at Christmas with a slight reminiscent feel of You've Got Mail. What more could you want as you prepare to get your own yuletide cheer rolling?
One Last Gripe: I wanted an epilogue with this one.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I adored Patrick and Merry's relationship. They are so loyal to one another.
First Sentence: "Mom, I need to work overtime, so I won't be home to help with dinner."
Out of all the Macomber Holiday novels I have read so far this season, Starry Night is by far my favorite. Perhaps it's the Alaska setting or my instant love of both leading characters, but I think ultimately it's that in many ways Finn reminds me a bit of my husband. As with other Christmas novels written by Macomber, you'll get a cozy story, a sweet romance, and a dash of holiday cheer when reading this one.
Carrie Slayton is working as a reported in Chicago covering the society page, but she longs to do something more meaningful with her time. She wants to be covering stories that matter more than whose marrying who in Chicago's upper echelon. She also wants to eventually move back home to Seattle as she finds herself homesick for her family - especially around the holidays. She decides if her boss won't give her a chance to prove herself, then it's time for her to resign and head back to the Pacific Northwest, but she is shocked when her boss agrees to give her a shot if she can track down and interview the elusive author, Finn Dalton. Carrie is nothing if not persistent and she dives into the challenge immediately.
After forsaking her vacation days that had been set aside for Thanksgiving with her family, Carrie heads to Alaska to track Finn down, but not before gathering as much information on him as possible. She manages to convince Sawyer, a bush pilot and friend of Finn's, to take her to his cabin in the Alaskan wilderness. Her arrival isn't on Finn's agenda and he is less than thrilled to see her. To make matters worse, a storm is bearing down on the small cabin which will leave Carrie stranded with Finn for several days. Eventually the two begin to thaw towards one another and they even start to enjoy their time together.
When Sawyer is finally able to return for Carrie, she knows that she won't write the article on Finn - even if it costs her the job of her dreams. Carrie and Finn strike up a long distance relationship that will show them that love often happens when you least expect it and in the unlikeliest of places.
I won't say more and spoil this one for you, but it's one I plan to reread next December. I loved Carrie and Finn. The additional elements of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest setting make this story near and dear to my heart. If you only have time to read one Macomber Christmas novel, I'd recommend this be the one.
One Last Gripe: Finn's stubbornness was vexing at times.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I can't choose just one thing. I truly loved every moment of this read.
First Sentence: Carrie Slayton's feet were killing her.
Favorite Character: It's a tie between Carrie and Finn.
I have long enjoyed the Pacific Northwest fiction written by Debbie Macomber so this year I decided to spend the holidays with some of her Christmas stories. I'll be reviewing most of them this week and just started her 2017 Christmas release, Merry and Bright. If you're looking for a clean holiday romance with plenty of cheer, laughter, and a bit of a Pride and Prejudice vibe, I'd suggest picking up The Perfect Christmas.
Cassie Beaumont is longing for the perfect Christmas. She wants it all - the husband, the kids, the dog, and the gorgeously decorated home that screams holiday perfection. While more and more of the people she graduated with are starting families, Cassie hasn't even had a nibble worth considering. It seems that there is no eligible bachelor in the Seattle area for a 30 something scientist who is ready to be a wife and mother. Cassie laments to her best friend and older brother which leads to a romantic comedy that is less than perfect yet completely fitting.
Cassie finds herself in the office of Dr. Simon Dodson, a psychologist who makes his living by being a matchmaker. His hefty price tag of $30,000 is a lot, but one Cassie is willing to pay if it leads her to her perfect match. Along the way, Cassie and Simon will examine their own hearts and minds as they try to determine is there truly a perfect match out there for us all.
I won't spoil anything for you with this one, but I enjoyed my time with the story, but I had to admit that I wasn't totally wowed by the romance in this one. I have come to expect a leading man who makes me swoon when I read a holiday romance from Macomber, but this one just didn't do it for me. I did enjoy the banter and the humor in this one. Flying elf, anyone?
This would make a fun Hallmark holiday film. I even imagined Candace Cameron Bure in the role of Cassie while I was reading.
One Last Gripe: Cassie was a bit whiny for my tastes.
Favorite Thing About This Book: The sibling bond between Cassie and her brother
First Sentence: "Who mails out Christmas cards before Thanksgiving?" Cassie Beaumont lamented to her best friend.
As I sit here waiting to see if it's going to snow in my neck of the woods or not, I decided to sit down and write my last holiday review until November/December rolls around again. I finished this one right after Christmas, but wasn't able to squeeze in a review. It's nice to have this one hold out to keep me in the holiday spirit a bit longer. This is one I was familiar with going in as I love the Hallmark movie based on the book. Typically, I prefer to read and then watch, but I saw the movie way before I got into Debbie Macomber's novels.
This novel focuses on two main characters. Emily Springer is a widow who lives in Leavenworth, Washington, a magical little town that takes Christmas to the next level. Emily works as an elementary school teacher and is devoted to her only child, Heather, who is across the country living in Boston while she attends Harvard. Christmas has always been a special time of year for Emily and Heather, but this year is different because Heather has decided not to make the trip to Leavenworth for the holidays. Emily is absolutely devastated and doesn't know what she'll do on her own during the most joyous time of the year.
As Emily is contemplating her lonely Christmas, Dr. Charles Brewster, a history professor at Harvard, is trying to avoid the holiday cheer at any cost. He wants nothing to do with the festivities and just wants to hide out somewhere to work on his writing. As his mother keeps calling trying to pin him down with holiday plans and blind dates, Charles is frantic to find an escape.
Emily and Charles both seek a solution to their problem on the internet. They find one another on a house swapping site and the Christmas adventures begin. Charles believes he is heading to a remote prison town where nobody will care about Christmas or take the time to pester him while he is working. (He doesn't realize until much later that the Leavenworth he is thinking about is in Kansas - not Washington.) Emily is thrilled to have fond accommodations in Boston so that she can surprise Heather for the holidays, but unbeknownst to Emily, Heather has plans of her own to head south for warmer climates on the back of a motorcycle with her new boyfriend, Elijah.
Neither Emily or Charles can believe their horrid luck as their December seems to grow worse by the minute, but chance encounters with people from the other person's life will soon have them both changing their tune.
In true Debbie Macomber fashion, Trading Christmas is a holiday jewel that will have you smiling and considering your own traditions. Ultimately, both of the main characters learn to be more open minded and to value their family and friends. I plan to revisit Emily and Charles in print and on the screen next holiday season. I also love that this one reminds me in many ways of another favorite film of mine, The Holiday.
One Last Gripe: I was not a fan of how Heather or Charles treated their mothers.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I regret that I never got to see Leavenworth at Christmas when I was living in the Seattle area. As such, the setting for this novel drew me in immediately.
First Sentence: "What do you mean you won't be home for Christmas?"
Favorite Character: Emily
Least Favorite Characters: Heather and Elijah...more
This is my second Macomber Christmas novel review of the holiday season. I'm truly enjoying spending time in the holiday romances crafted by Debbie Macomber. They are like a mug of hot chocolate full of marshmallows and peppermint. I know that reading one of these will get me in the holiday spirit and make me crave a comfy chair and burrowing under a quilt. I've come to think of Macomber's holiday novels as the comfort food of books.
I have also come to expect a romance in each of these holiday tales. They often take a page from Pride and Prejudice pairing together an unlikely couple that has to overcome some misconceptions about one another to find their happily ever after. Even though I know there will be a somewhat predictable formula with these novels, I don't mind and I find myself lost in the story each time.
Twelve Days of Christmas focuses on Julia, a cheerful retail employee who is trying to land her dream job in social media, and Cain, an aloof neighbor of Julia who doesn't seem to have a smile or kind word for anyone. Julia's previous run-ins with her neighbor haven't been pleasant, but it isn't until Cain steals her newspaper that Julia truly gets irked. (I've noticed that newspaper theft is also a theme in these holiday stories as it is a plot point in The Perfect Christmas as well.) She complains about his behavior to her best friend who suggests that Julia kill Cain with kindness. While Julia is tempted to give Cain the cold shoulder, she decides to try the kindness idea while blogging about her progress to aid her quest for her dream job. She never expects that her kindness experiment will show her a side of Cain (as well as herself) that she never could have expected.
I immediately liked Julia and knew that we would make great friends. Cain, on the other hand, took a bit more perseverance on my part. I, like Julia, felt like Cain was an Ebenezer who couldn't inspire romance anymore than an icicle. He surprised me in the end, but he certainly made me work for it.
Full of Seattle charm and holiday romance, Twelve Days of Christmas is a fabulous read to keep you cozy this December.
One Last Gripe: Some of the dialogue between Julia and Cain was a bit cheesy for my tastes.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved the segments that included Bernie.
First Sentence: Cain Maddox stepped into the elevator, and then just as the doors were about to close he heard a woman call out.
Favorite Character: Julia
Least Favorite Character: Cain until he won me over later in the novel...more
Kendall is fighting her anxiety as she prepares to return to her high school for the rest of her Senior year after participating in a study abroad program in Europe. Kendall isn't sure she is ready to be back home and even less sure that she wants to finish out her high school education in the typical manner. To make matters worse, Kendall feels like she is less intelligent than others because she struggles with ADHD.
Max is working a dead end telemarketing job and living with his Dad while he keeps an eye on his ex-girlfriend, Eliza, hoping she won't self destruct. Max put off his admission to Brown, but finds that he resents Eliza for this choice more than he should. He is unhappy with his current situation, but feels helpless to change his course. He finds himself stuck in a posh, yet aging New York City apartment with his cantankerous grandfather until a nurse can be hired to stay with the elderly man. Max can think of a million things he'd rather do than babysit his grandfather, but he just doesn't have the heart to let his family down. Max's fatal flaw is his need to make sure everyone around him is taken care of without truly thinking about his own needs and feelings.
Kendall and Max have a history, but haven't seen each other since before Kendall headed off to Europe. Neither of them has thought much about that night they kissed while Max was still dating Eliza and Kendall was nursing a broken heart after Max's friend, Jamie, rejected her. Kendall and Max didn't plan to find themselves in a steamy embrace, but they certainly didn't mean for Eliza to witness it. Even though Max knew things with Eliza weren't going to work before his kiss with Kendall, he feels guilty for getting caught up in the moment and chooses to do his best to repair the damage he's caused.
Jamie has had plenty of time to think about Kendall while she was away and the pair have been flirting via photographs for weeks. Kendall has high hopes that Jamie has reconsidered his initial stance on a romantic relationship between them and when she finds herself in New York City for a few days between Christmas and New Years, she invites him to the city to hang out. The pair has a wonderful day and it appears that everything is on track, but witnessing a tragic event has a way of derailing things. Jamie, Kendall, and Max will all be forever changed by that day and what happens to Luna, a total stranger who happens to have the worst day of her life unfold in front of the trio as well as multiple other New Yorkers. Both Kendall and Max feel they could have done more to help Luna before things escalated.
Kendall and Max are both struggling with the guilt that keeps gnawing at their minds and hearts. They know that nobody else can truly understand what they are experiencing except the other, so they agree to meet to talk about everything. This encounter will lead the pair to begin a challenge of being kind to strangers throughout New York City. These moments of kindness range from small random acts of kindness to larger ones. While many of us have tried to participate in random acts of kindness, we rarely know what happens to those we have extended our aid to, but I loved that in this novel, there are smaller chapters from the recipients to explain how and why they reacted to Kendall and Max. It truly made me consider that we never truly know the path others walk even when the visual evidence would lead us to believe certain things.
Along the way to complete seven acts of random kindness before midnight on New Years Eve, Kendall and Max will learn more about themselves than they could have ever imagined. They also might just discover that they were meant to find one another again.
This contemporary novel left me feeling hopeful for 2018 as I began to contemplate what random acts of kindness I can perform in the upcoming year. I was also really happy to see that the romance, while it did have its predictable moments, was more mature than I was expecting. Kendall and Max grow a lot during their days together. This is the perfect novel to start your 2018 reading list. Life isn't perfect - it's messy and chaotic, but we can control how we choose to react to those messes. I, for one, will be showing a bit more kindness, a lot more patience, and arming myself with a smile and a sense of humor in the coming year.
P.S. - I also was ecstatic to find a novel set in that in between time from December 26 - January 1. I loved being able to read this one in the relative dates of the novel. It's also highly appropriate that I am drafting this review on New Years Eve.
One Last Gripe: I was annoyed by some of Kendall's choices.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I enjoyed the blizzard scenes. I imagine New York to be magical during a snowfall.
First Sentence: Here Now, A List: THINGS TO DO TO MAKE NEXT YEAR PERFECT Okay, that's way too much pressure.
I fully admit that part of what drew me to this novel was the cover. I absolutely love it. After pulling myself away from the cover, I was quickly sucked in by the description on Goodreads. I went into this expecting a fun, Hallmark fluffy sort of YA contemporary romance, but what I got had darker shades and delved into a mystery with a sinister air. I was pleasantly surprised by this turn of events and ended up loving this novel.
The main character, Marisa, gains a reputation for teen detective work when she finds her best friend's boyfriend in a compromising situation with another girl. While Marisa never intended for this to become anything more than helping out her bestie, Charlie, the word starts to circle and before she knows it a frenemy from her past, Kendall, is seeking her expertise. Kendall believes that her boyfriend, TJ, who recently transferred to Marisa's school is cheating on her. Marisa doesn't want to make a habit of investigating boyfriends, but she wants to give Kendall a chance to fix the mistakes they made in their friendship as kids, so she reluctantly agrees, never suspecting that this one choice will change her life forever.
On the surface, the novel is about Marisa investigating TJ to see what's going on with him and why Kendall doesn't feel confident in their relationship. I was annoyed by Kendall from the get-go. I would never advocate cheating, but I could totally understand why TJ would want to put some distance between himself and her. Kendall is selfish and vain. She truly doesn't seem to realize that others have thoughts and feelings. I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt since Marisa did, but I just could never get to a point where I could summon up any amount of sympathy for her. I felt a slight twinge towards the end when she talks about her beginning days at Templeton as I did feel for her in those moments, but it was hard to remember that as she continued to make poor choices.
In addition to investigating TJ, Marisa also gets pulled into a cheating scandal at a neighboring school. When someone she cares about is labeled as a cheater with minimal proof, Marisa launches into detective mode once again to find out what's really happening in the halls of Templeton High. This strand of the story felt a bit darker than the boyfriend investigations. Yes, matters of the heart are important, but they pale in comparison to college admission and permanent records. Furthermore, I kept thinking about ethics and slander as I read this storyline.
In addition to the issues raised with the cheating scandal, there is also some discourse on dishonesty, bullying, and slut shaming in this novel. As the internet continues to dominate the lives of many teens (and adults for that matter) it has become a place that can be hostile from time to time. Marisa experiences this first hand when rumors about her are plastered on the web. This segment of the novel enraged me. Nobody deserves that sort of treatment regardless of what they have done (or not done). Jealousy is truly an evil green eyed beast and teenagers can often be cruel. I hope those who read this will learn something from Marisa's journey. We could all do with a reminder to be kinder.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that there is romance in this one. I don't want to spoil it, but I was firmly shipping who Marisa and Charlotte both ended up with before the novel concluded. I also now have a new fondness for Christmas tree farms, hot chocolate, and barn lofts.
One Last Gripe: There were a few moments during the school cheating investigation that didn't work for me, but they were minor.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved the relationships Marisa has with her best friend, Charlie, and her brother, Nick. It was nice to see people who supported one another, but weren't afraid to call each other out on their crap.
First Sentence: Scaling the back of a house spider-man style hadn't been part of my Saturday night plans.
Spencer has always found comfort in scientific facts. He keeps his mind occupied in stressful moments by creating taxonomies in his head. Between the taxonomies, a detailed knowledge of insects, and Tourettes Syndrome, Spencer constantly feels on the edge of everything. It doesn't help that his older brother, Dean, is a golden boy. Everything in Spencer's universe shifts the day Hope moves in next door. From the first moment he lays eyes on her, Spencer knows that Hope owns his heart, but he doubts she will ever return his affection.
The novel begins when Spencer and Hope are in middle school and showcases their friendship. I'm a firm believer that the best romances begin with friends, so I was rooting for these two from the opening chapters. Life has an odd way of turning things upside down though so Spencer and Hope will have to navigate some rocky currents as they age. High school comes with its own set of problems, tragedies, and broken hearts, but in the end Spencer and Hope find a way to remain friends.
In addition, to the friendship and romantic angst, I was fascinated by how Spencer handles his Tourettes Syndrome. I've never known anyone with the disorder and its not something I have a ton of knowledge about, so I was intrigued to see the world through Spencer's eyes. Being a teenager is hard enough, but having something that sets you apart in the eyes of others adds a layer to Spencer that makes him stand out as a main character. People often made fun of him or treated him differently because of the disorder, but as the novel progresses, Spencer comes to terms with who he is and learns how to cope when others don't get it.
The emphasis on family is another theme that permeates this read. I loved the sibling interaction between Spencer and Dean as well as the moments between Hope and her older sister, Janie. Overall, Spencer's entire family won me over as well. Mimi, in particular, has a special place in my heart.
If you're looking for a contemporary read with a southern setting that features a unique main character, I'd suggest picking this one up. Prepare yourself for a rollercoaster of emotions though. I cried and laughed in equal measure as I rooted for Spencer to get his happy ending.
One Last Gripe: There were moments when I had trouble liking Hope. I felt like she intentionally hurt Spencer at times.
Favorite Thing About The Book: Spencer's family
First Sentence: Two important things happened the summer I turned thirteen.
Meet Cute - according to the Urban Dictionary this a scenario in which two individuals are brought together in some unlikely, zany, destined-to-fall-in-love-and-be-together-forever sort of way. Apparently, also according to Urban Dictionary, the most unusual circumstances make for the best stories and relationships. This term was fairly new to me when I started reading this anthology, but the concept of finding love in an unexpected place it not anything new. It's something that has been happening in literature and film since the dawn of their existence. Finding love is equal parts terrifying, exhilarating, and passionate. There is nothing more enchanting than that first glimpse at someone who is destined to hold a piece of your heart. Young love, however, doesn't always run a smooth course and can often be bittersweet. We've all had our hearts broken at some point and hopefully we've all had them mended as well. Fourteen YA authors have joined forces to bring a diverse cast of characters to life to allow readers to see the moment when the Meet Cute occurs. Some of the couples have staying power while others seem to linger only in the short expanse of these pages like smoke that is dissipating into the night sky. There is truly something for every reader in this collection no matter your genre preference. "Whether or not you believe in fate, luck, or love at first sight, every romance has to start somewhere" (Kindle Location 3340).
One Last Gripe: Personally, I wish there had been a few more fantasy stories or a historical fiction piece in the collection.
Favorite Thing About This Book: The diversity of the characters and romances
First Sentence: You're getting another beer in the kitchen and watching two badly dressed sophomores try not to be too obvious about the fact that they're staring at you, when the cops show up outside Madison Campbell's house.
Favorite Character: Moss from "The Dictionary of You and Me" by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Least Favorite Character: Thomas from "The Department of Dead Love" by Nicola Yoon
For a mini review of each story, be sure to check out the full post at Reading Lark....more
Cyn Balog has a knack for writing some seriously creepy books. Alone follows in the vein of her previous novel, Unnatural Deeds, in that it features a unreliable narrator and some moments that sent chills racing down my spine. This novel is the perfect read if Halloween is still on your mind while the chill enters the air and snowflakes prepare to fall.
Seda never wanted to leave Boston to spend time at the isolated mansion atop a mountain in the far reaches of Pennsylvania, but her mother didn't exactly give her a choice. It was supposed to be a quick sojourn to put the crumbling relic in order before selling it off. The home, while historical, has seen better days and serves as a source of torment and nightmares for Seda. The entire place is full of creepy props, fake bloodstains, and eery rooms since her aunt and uncle, the previous owners, ran a murder mystery hotel. Seda can't wait to shake the cobwebs from her boots and get back to her normal life in the city, but it seems her mother has other plans as the brief trip turns into an extended stay.
The house is almost a character as it takes on a life of its own and plays such a crucial role in the plot. The images in my mind of this place as I read were enough to give me the creeps and evoke memories of The Shining. There are some parallels between this novel and the famous work by Stephen King. One of the characters even calls attention the similarities at once point which made me smile. I can certainly see how cabin fever is a real thing after reading this novel and experiencing The Shining in both written and film formats.
Seda's narration isn't reliable due to her cabin fever and the fact that she believes she absorbed her twin in the womb, but that his consciousness still lingers within her own mind. Seda talks to Sawyer frequently throughout the novel and blames him for some of her more surreal behaviors. It's unclear whether Sawyer is truly there or only a figment of Seda's imagination, but regardless, it adds another layer of creepiness to an already spooky tale.
Things with Seda get even more intense when a SUV full of teenagers from a boarding school meets with an accident on the snow covered roads. The teens seek out assistance and shelter from Seda and her family. While Seda's mother and younger siblings seem to thrill at the idea of having visitors in the house, Seda wants nothing more than for everyone to go back to where they came from before something truly awful happens.
I hesitate to say too much more about the plot as it kept me on the edge of my seat. I read this novel in one day as I just had to know what was truly happening and how things would end up. I was most intrigued by Seda's relationships with her various family members as well as the interactions she has with the stranded teens. I was pleasantly surprised to see twists and turns in this one I didn't predict along the way. Alone is one of those reads that will keep you on your toes and have you jumping at the slightest noise. There are some intense moments and some gory scenes; I couldn't help looking over my shoulder and closing the blinds while I was reading because there were a few times I felt like I might jump out of my skin.
One Last Gripe: Seda's narration was a bit odd from time to time. I felt slightly jarred out of my thoughts when she would go off on a tangent. These elements all made sense in the end, but it did provide some frustration during my time reading Alone.
Favorite Thing About This Book: The wintery time of year and the crumbling former murder mystery hotel make for a great setting.
First Sentence: Welcome to the Bismarck-Chisholm House - where murder is only the beginning of the fun!
Favorite Character: Adam - How could I not love the kid who is almost always carrying a book around?
Least Favorite Character: Seda's mom - I was frustrated by some of her choices throughout the book....more
I love Norse mythology and I'm always looking for novels that put their own spin on the familiar tales. The Valkyrie lore is fascinating, so I couldn't resist giving this one a read. Amanda Hocking puts her own spin on the Valkyrie legend in a universe where immortals and mortals share the earth while the Gods watch from another realm.
The main character, Malin, is the daughter of a Valkyrie and as such has inherited her mother's skills and abilities. The Valkyrie are assassins of sorts who are sent after immortals that need to be returned to another realm. I found this structure for the Valkyrie to be an interesting one. I also loved that this is a novel where the women get to be strong, take charge sorts. The ability to kill an immortal is not bestowed on the male children of the Valkyrie.
As with every novel, Malin's transition into her new role isn't an easy one and she soon learns that not everything is as it seems. She will be forced to learn hard truths and decide for herself where her true path lies. She also will have to battle with her heart when the handsome Asher steps on the scene. Malin will be forced to choose between her blade and role as a Valkyrie and her heart. The romance in this one makes me feel like it crosses the line from YA into New Adult territory.
Malin is in a constant state of choice throughout the novel on virtually every aspect of her life. As such, she is a bit grumpy and unlikable from time to time. I also wasn't thrilled to see a love triangle rear its ugly head, but it fit with the theme of choice.
With elements of urban fantasy, Norse mythology, and dystopia, Between the Blade and the Heart is my favorite Hocking novel to date.
One Last Gripe: Cliffhanger - ugh
Favorite Thing About This Book: The Norse lore
First Sentence: In the vast emptiness of space, the gods grew restless, and so they created the heavens above and the worlds below.
I love reading novels that have two timelines - one in the past and one in a more recent decade. I find such delight in trying to piece together how the two narratives are connected. I haven't read Fiona Davis' work before, but the idea of a novel with two historical timelines and a famous NYC setting drew me in.
The Dakota was one of the first apartment residences in NYC. I have always thought of apartment living as normal for this city, but in the past that was not always the case. Sure, tenement buildings were common, but the wealthy and middle class tended to live in single family homes as land was not at the premium in the city that it is today. Visionaries predicted that a market existed for a residence like The Dakota. I wasn't familiar with the building, but some brief research turned up a treasure trove of tidbits. I had no idea the building was home to John Lennon and that his murder occurred outside its southern entrance. There are also a number of other famous residents throughout the building's history, but the novel only alludes to many of them as they are not the focus of the story.
Sara Smythe was working at a posh hotel in London when she is offered a position at The Dakota. Sara makes the choice to leave behind her native England to take a chance on making a name for herself in the United States. She is set to run the housekeeping staff, but events result in her becoming the manager of the The Dakota, a task she isn't sure she is suited for, but feels unable to turn down. Sara's one of those characters I admire for her work ethic and attention to detail. She finds herself spending more and more time with architect, Theo Camden, who helped design the building's interior and hopes to open his own firm. Theo and his family will also be taking up residence in The Dakota once it officially opens.
Sara's portion of the story reveals details about the beginnings of the Dakota, life during the Guilded Age in one of America's largest cities, and social norms for the classes. I also learned more about the role gender played on the lives of people in this time period. Sara's life is dictated by her standing in society and her gender. Barriers keep her from experiencing a destiny purely of her own making.
The more modern storyline is also a historical one as it occurs in the mid-1980's. Bailey Camden is renovating an apartment in the Dakota and questioning her connection to the famous family. Her grandfather was a ward of the family, but she doesn't know much more than that. The connection has never come with many perks other than a relationship with her cousins of sorts. Its this connection that gives her a lifeline after she leaves rehab for a drug and alcohol addiction. The renovation will help Bailey get back on her feet and will hopefully finance the opening her own design firm as she's seen as unemployable by the other high powered NYC firms after her behavior while intoxicated.
As Bailey continues to learn more about the hotel as she works on the renovation, she also finds herself piecing together the tragic backstory of the Camden family.
I loved spending my Thanksgiving Break with this novel as I felt transported to the beautiful and historical Dakota. I would love to see the building in person now that I have read this novel. My mind has been opened to the fascinating historical elements and events that construct the fiber of New York City. I've honestly never wanted to know much about the city's past. The city that seems to hold so much magic for so many never truly appealed to me, but The Address has me questioning if perhaps I was a bit too hasty in that assessment. I didn't appreciate the city when I visited as a teen, but I'm hoping as an adult I would see it in a different light which would allow me to appreciate the history.
If you're looking for a historical read with a mystery element, I'd highly recommend this one. It's also a great read during the holiday season as it will have you evaluating the true meaning of family and the lengths we go to for the ones we love.
One Last Gripe: I found some elements to be a bit predictable, but the historical details and amazing setting overshadowed the predictability.
Favorite Thing About This Book: The setting
First Sentence: The sight of a child teetering on the window ledge of room 510 turned Sara's world upside down.
Pride and Prejudice has always been my favorite Austen novel, so I am always excited to see modern authors add their own twist to the age old story. I've enjoyed Melissa de la Cruz's writing in the past, so I couldn't resist this combination of my Austen favorite and a holiday theme. I recommend grabbing a mug of peppermint hot chocolate, a flannel blanket, and curling up with this cozy holiday romance.
Darcy Fitzwilliam is a workaholic who has climbed the corporate ladder and landed a partnership at one of the most successful hedge funds in New York City. Her work is her life which doesn't leave a lot of time for visiting her family in Ohio or settling down. Darcy doesn't mind being on her own, in fact, she prefers it that way, but she has to admit that her apartment in the city can be a lonely place. When her mother has a heart attack right before the Christmas holiday, Darcy drops everything and jumps on the first flight to her hometown of Pemberly, Ohio. Darcy hasn't been back in eight years, so she isn't sure what to expect beyond an ailing mother, a father who has never forgiven her for choosing to defy his wishes, and brothers she barely knows these days. She has no desire to reconnect to her childhood. She simply wants to make sure that her mother is going to be okay.
Darcy's first moments in her childhood home are tension filled as she realizes that the holiday is going to be more work than rest. Her first order of business is to find a suitable dress for her parents' annual Christmas party. Darcy knows the entire town has been invited and she's not ready to be on display, but she is given little choice. The party will bring people from her past back into startling living color. Not all of these reconnections are bad though as she meets up with her best friend from high school, Bingley. Bingley lives in California and works as an actor, so the pair has drifted apart, but five minutes into their reunion, Darcy can't imagine why she ever let him out of her life in the first place. She wants nothing more than to breathe new life into their old friendship and start anew. Her joy at seeing Bingley is quickly extinguished when the handsome and infuriating Luke Bennet shows up. Darcy has never been able to be around Luke without wanting to unleash a torrent of sarcasm in his direction, but all that changes when the pair realizes they are standing under the mistletoe. A steamy kiss will ignite romantic notions in both of them, in spite of their pride and prejudices.
The story becomes a holiday romance that pairs up two unlikely characters who just might be the ticket to everlasting bliss. Things are complicated not only by their perceptions of one another, but also by the fact that both enter into engagements with other people. Can Darcy and Luke make up their minds to take a chance on the one person who makes their blood boil with both frustration and attraction? Will they decide a relationship is too much effort and stick with the sure bet?
I had such fun losing myself in my first holiday read of the season while I looked for allusions to Pride and Prejudice.
I loved spending time with Darcy and Luke in this fun holiday tale that adds a gender bender element to Pride and Prejudice. The entire time I was reading I kept imagining it as Hallmark holiday movie. While I don't know if that will ever happen, I did see on the author's website that she has written a script based on the novel, so maybe one day I will get to see this one on tv.
My only major complaint with this one is Darcy. There are times when it was difficult to like her. In those moments, I craved a break from her narration and would have liked to see parts of the story unfold from Luke's point of view.
One Last Gripe: There is an instalove vibe going on in this one.
Favorite Thing About the Book: The friendship between Darcy and Bingley
First Sentence: A Taylor Swift cover of "Last Christmas," originally recorded by Wham! in 1986, strummed from the stereo of the sleek, black town car, where Darcy was sitting in the backseat.
There is something alluring about the Roaring Twenties in spite of my knowledge about how the era comes to a crashing end as The Great Depression ravages the country. The calm before the storm is full of glitz, glamor, short skirts, and challenges to tradition. The flapper arises and the speakeasy flourishes. Everyone wants to live on the edge and experience euphoria as much as possible after the devestation of The Great War.
This setting is a time of transition and hope which on its own would make for an addictive sort of read, but coupled with the fact that its inspired by Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing (one of my favorites!), I found it hard to resist reading just one more chapter each time I sat down with this novel.
Like the play, the story largely centers around the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice. In this reimagining, Benedick is good friends with Prince and Hero. He is from a new money family, but he has no desire to work to keep the family accounts flooded with income. Instead, Ben, as he is often called would much rather earn his keep by writing stories on his precious typewriter. A quarrel with his father leads Ben to abandon his spot at prestigious school in New York City before sitting for his exit exams in order to fly to the countryside with his friends and try his hand at being a writer. Beatrice has been reimagined as a wickedly smart young woman who craves the chance to study medicine. She knows a great deal about the human body, car engines, and marksmanship - far more than a young lady should know. After money trouble sends her home from school before she can finish, she finds herself seeking assistance from her Uncle Leo and her cousin, Hero. This decision will put her on a collision course with Ben that will have epic repercussions.
While the characters and scenes have evolved to fit the time period, for example, Leo doesn't own a vineyard, but rather a speakeasy, I found that sinking into this story felt like spending time with an old friend. We hadn't seen each other in awhile and we both look a bit different from our last meeting, but essentially we are the same as we were when we first met.
Speak Easy, Speak Love is full of 1920's adventure (including gun battles with bootleggers) and swagger. I can only predict that good ole Will would be quite pleased with the banter between Ben and Beatrice as well as the romance swirling in the air. This novel kept me reading while chuckling on more than one occasion and daydreaming about flapper dresses. I seriously hope that McKelle George will pen some more old favorites with intriguing historical backdrops.
One Last Gripe: I didn't love Hero in this version as much as I liked her in the original.
Favorite Things About This Book: The setting and the wit
First Sentence: Benedick Scott was on his way to freedom or profound failure or, if the usual order of things held up, both.
Alexander Hamilton is a historical figure that has a firm hold on the current collective imagination after the smash Broadway hit brought his story to life. While I must admit that I haven't seen the musical and am largely ignorant to most of the songs from the production, as a history teacher I am familiar with Hamilton and his contributions to the Revolutionary War effort and our fledgling country. While I know the historical details, I am lacking knowledge of the personal intricacies of his life which include his upbringing, self doubts, and romance with Eliza Schuyler. I also had never heard of Eliza before picking up this novel, but now that I have made her acquaintance I long to learn more about the intelligent and vivacious woman who preferred to use her mind instead of her beauty while holding firmly to her beliefs.
I was expecting this novel to involve a lot of war aspects, but for the most part there is very little fighting as the novel largely takes place in the winter months of 1780 when Washington and his troops are staying in Morristown, New Jersey. Fighting has ceased during the bitter cold, but will begin again when the spring thaw sets in. As General Washington's aide, Colonel Alexander Hamilton is kept a safe distance from the bullets and blood, but he aches to have a command to prove himself on the battlefield. His luck seems to shift when he hears that the lovely Eliza Schuyler is on her way to Morristown to stay with her aunt and uncle, the local doctor and nurse. Alex feels his heart soar with joy at the prospect of seeing Eliza again. It has been two years since the last time he laid eyes on her, but absence has truly made his heart grow fonder.
The novel focuses on the progression of the relationship between Alex and Eliza that will lead them to the alter in one of the greatest love stories in US History. There is a good amount of detail about conditions for the soldiers, medicine during the time period, and social structures of the era, but largely the novel revolves around the relationship element. I wasn't upset by this as the cover makes it very clear that love is at the forefront of this tale. There is some Pride and Prejudice elements that play out through the course of the novel - including a mother trying to marry her daughters off as quickly as possible to save the family fortune - which made me love this novel all the more.
I was intrigued to find that I saw Eliza as a kindred spirit of sorts. I admired her gumption and principles greatly. I could easily see myself wanting to be friends with her if I had lived in this time period. She lived a fascinating life and inspired me to do more research on her. I must know more about the life of this strong, brave woman.
Furthermore, I loved Eliza's sisters. Angelica and Peggy are headstrong, tempestuous, and intelligent beauties who command a room with their very presence. Eliza always feels like she fades into the background when her sisters are around, but I didn't feel that was true at all. Each of the Schuyler sisters has an independent streak and a fierce loyalty to her sisters. I admired the relationship between the trio.
Overall, I loved this novel. For me, it was the perfect balance of history and romance. I loved seeing Alex and Eliza grow as people and become more worthy of one another. While the author fully admits that not much is known about their whirlwind courtship, I feel like she made it feel authentic. I like to believe that things happened for Alex and Eliza exactly as they did in the novel. I was also thrilled to hear that another installment is forthcoming.
I think this may be Melissa de la Cruz's best novel to date. She has a gift for bringing history and its inhabitants to life.
One Last Gripe: I wanted to know even more about the medical care of the time period.
Favorite Thing About This Book: The women who fought against the gender norms of their time and station
First Sentence: Like a latter-day Greek temple, the Schuyler family mansion sat atop a softly rounded hill outside Albany.
Favorite Character: Eliza
Least Favorite Character: The entire Livingston family...more
Paris is a city that captures the imagination of many. I have read about it, studied its history, and seen its streets captured in films, but I have yet to see the beautiful city for myself. Traveling abroad isn't in the cards for me at this point in my life, but I hope in a few years I will be able to see some of the famous and historical places that have haunted my imagination. Paris is certainly on that list.
I am not typically one to read nonfiction travel guides for fun, but I was lured into this one by the promise of historical figures. I wanted to imagine the streets of Paris as they were when people like Marie Curie walked them and to think of how things were when famous events like the French Revolution were occurring. This lovely little tome allowed me to plan my ideal Paris itinerary through a historical sense.
Each chapter focuses on a specific area of the famed city and sheds light on some of its illustrious residents. After learning more about the people who have called Paris home, each chapter provides specific advice for travelers to make the most of their experience in the location. I know these tidbits will be immensely helpful when I do finally make my way to France.
The Streets of Paris is a well researched and intriguing travel guide full of advice and pictures to help you make the most of your Paris trip. It will certainly be in my carry on bag when I board a flight to the city of light.
One Last Gripe: The pictures, while a nice addition, are modern. I would have liked some historical photographs to accompany the historical segments that would allow me to make comparisons between the past and present.
Favorite Thing About This Book: Learning about historical figures - both those new to me and those who felt like old friends
First Sentence: "Beauty is in the streets," they say in Paris....more
Southern Gothics are my sort of reads once October hits. I love crumbling antebellum homes, Spanish moss, family secrets, and the possibility of the paranormal walking among the living. If you've ever visited cities like Charleston or Savannah, you might have considered that the line between reality and fiction could blur just enough to make some of the local lore seem real. While I've never visited coastal Alabama, I can only imagine that the setting is similar to the aforementioned cities, which is why I couldn't resist reading this one when it came to my attention.
The novel is told in multiple voices, but mainly follows Mae and Cage. Mae is the younger sister of Cage's girlfriend, Ro, who was found dead on the beach almost a year ago. All the signs of blame for the death point to Cage who ran and has been missing ever since. Mae isn't sure what to believe as she knows how deeply her sister cared for Cage, but she knows that Ro's death is anything but normal. When Cage shows up on the doorstep of their crumbling mansion in coastal Alabama requesting to see Ro, things take a turn. It appears Cage has no memory of that fateful day and can't help shed light on what truly happened to Ro, but for some reason Mae can't bring herself to believe he had anything to do with her sister's death. The pair begin a quest to uncover the secrets of Ro's death which will lead them down sinister paths of long forgotten family secrets and dark magic.
The magic system in this one had a lot of potential, but I felt that there were holes in it. I didn't get any sense of closure between the family's past and the current situation aside from Mae's choices in the final chapters. I still have so many unanswered questions which leaves me feeling as if I missed something along the way. I also felt like some elements in the final chapters were explained too easily and neatly.
I felt like this novel hit only the top of the iceberg. I wanted the author to go deeper and explain more thoroughly. There was a lot of potential here, but the execution missed the mark a bit for my tastes.
I did like the setting and Mae's tenacity. She couldn't settle for not knowing everything about what Ro was involved in prior to her death. Another aspect I enjoyed was the relationship between Ro and her grandfather.
All in all, this was a weird read for me. It had some spooky elements, but not enough to get my heart racing. The historical elements of the novel felt more complete than the contemporary segments. The writing in places was deeply atmospheric which I loved, but the overall execution of the plot was lacking. I needed fuller plot sequences and more character development. I also was not a huge fan of how the novel jumped around so abruptly between Mae and Cage. I find myself firmly lodged between loving this one and disliking it altogether. It had enough merits to keep me reading, but required some patience on my part.
One Last Gripe: I didn't love any of the main characters which made it difficult to immerse myself in their lives.
Favorite Thing About The Book: The setting
First Sentence: It isn't a night for raising.
Favorite Character: Grandfather Cole
Least Favorite Character: Fern - she was odd and creepy...more
I'm not usually one to pick up a novel that has potential to be depressing unless I'm really in the mood for it. In spite of a stressful few weeks of work and real life drama from a variety of sources, I decided to spend some time with this anthology of sorts because it claimed to be a modern spin on The Canterbury Tales. I do plan to reread this one when I have the time to soak it in a bit more, but in spite of outside forces, I did enjoy my time with this one. It's been ages since I've read Chaucer (probably since college many moons ago), but I remember loving it. I wanted to see how Hutchinson and the other authors could breathe new life into the classic tale and make it more relevant for teens.
The story revolves around a group that has been sent to a wilderness camp after committing various crimes or due to various mental health problems. The beginning of the tale starts when the group is dropped off in the wilderness. They are charged with finding their way back to the main camp and learning to work together. Gio, the narrator, decides to make the trek a bit more interesting by offering prize money to whomever comes up with the best story. Some of the teens choose to tell stories about why they are at Zeppelin Bend working on whatever is troubling them while others tend to take more poetic license with their stories. Most of the stories also have surprising elements - some of which were rather disturbing.
As with all anthologies, there were some stories that I enjoyed more than others, but I did like that the various authors gave each character a distinctive voice and that all the stories played out together in the larger setting of the wilderness excursions. I want to reread this one and reread The Canterbury Tales in order to better find the allusions from the classic text in the modern update. Some of them are glaringly apparent such as the journey and the motley assortment of characters. My favorite stories were "Look Down" by Robin Talley, "A Cautionary Tale" by Stephanie Kuehn, and "A Violation of Rule 16" by Suzanne Young. Since the story revolves around youth who are troubled in some way or who have gotten themselves into trouble, some of the stories are difficult to read. Jenna's, in particular, hit me the hardest and tugged at my heart, but because it was difficult, I didn't count it as one of my favorites.
Youth is a difficult time for many of us. We all felt during that stage that we were something other. Finding out who you are and where you place in the world is requires work and isn't an easy process. It's also a time to make mistakes and learn from them. I certainly feel that teens will gravitate towards this book as they will see something of themselves or their thoughts reflected in at least one of these characters.
One Last Gripe: I wanted to know if some of the stories were true and not just the character trying to one up the previous storyteller. For example, I really want to know what happened to David's sister.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I love that it adds a fresh spin based on inspiration from an old favorite while calling attention to problems in our society.
Sorrow Lovegood hasn't been back to Vermont since she left at eight years old after the death of her older sister, Patience. Sorrow comes from a long line of independent women who have been labeled as witches due to their connection with their orchard and an age old feud with their neighbors, The Abrams. Sorrow's has spent her time since leaving Vermont living with her father and stepmother in Miami, Florida. She has repressed her memories of the winter Patience died, but she realizes that its time to face the past. She heads back to Vermont to spend time with her mother and grandmother.
Upon her return to Abrams Valley, Vermont, Sorrow finds the feud between the Lovegoods and the Abrams is still going, but the violence of the past has subsided a bit into a blanket of tension and hurt feelings. Sorrow doesn't want to be known as nothing more than one of those odd Lovegood girls, but she can't seem to shake that reputation. Her arrival in town shakes things up and her desire to know more about her sister's death will lead to the past coming to light. The truth behind the tragedy will rock Sorrow's foundation and force her to decide which path she needs to follow for herself.
The novel unfolds in a unique narrative structure. Sorrow's segments alternate between the current time and eight years in the past. There are also numerous smaller chapters that focus on various Lovegood women throughout history to provide more details on the feud. The historical components were often difficult to read as the Lovegood women had experienced so much loss and discrimination.
Part magical realism and part contemporary, The Memory Trees focuses on serious issues such as mental illness and bullying. Kali Wallace has created a sweeping novel full of beautiful language, heartbreak, and family secrets. I found myself walking alongside Sorrow as she spent time in the orchard. I could see the landscape of Abrams Valley and feel each hurt in the family feud resonate. I completely lost myself in this world and reveled in each chapter. It took me awhile to finish this one due to a hectic work schedule, but I looked forward to piecing together another piece of the Lovegood puzzle each evening.
One Last Gripe: I wish the ending had been more concrete.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I enjoyed the narrative style.
First Sentence: Beyond the window the morning was bright and glittering, the sky a breathless blue, and the hotels on Miami Beach jutted like broken teeth across the water, but all Sorrow could see was the orchard.
There are so many aspects of history that are unknown to me. Even though I have a degree in History, there is no way I can know every single event, person, and detail throughout time. Focusing on the US alone wouldn't make the task easier as there are so many stories out there that deserve to be heard. Finding stories like this one has become a quest of sorts for me. I crave hearing stories from those who previously were silent. I want to understand the history of women and ethnicities other than my own.
Somehow in all of my studies concerning World War I, I had never once heard of the use of radium. Sure, I knew women were engaged in jobs within war industries, but I never could have imagined that something like painting dials for watches and instruments with radioactive substances was happening. It seems like such a huge no-no to me that I couldn't understand what would have compelled these women to put themselves in such danger for a paycheck. I was appalled to learn that most factories proclaimed that radium was perfectly safe, even knowing that their workers used the process of lip pointing to paint the dials. Lip pointing is pretty much what it sounds like - women would use their mouths to point their paintbrushes to make sure the numerals they painted were precise. This practice introduced small amounts of radium into the body which would prove to be a fatal mistake.
These women were not just names on a page to me. As I read their stories, each one came to life and made a mark on my heart. They were daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers. They had families who loved them and dreams to fulfill. Many of them worked in the factory only to show support for the war effort while others found that they enjoyed the artistic work and the camaraderie they found with the other dial painters. Like with many things in life, the job of the dial painters seemed too good to be true and when the moment of realization arrived, it was too late to save the women.
Death from radium poisoning is brutal on the body and the soul. Each of these women was in excruciating pain which led to exorbatant medical bills and legal fees. The companies that employed these women refused to own up to any wrongdoing and often blamed the victims themselves. The companies refused to pay for treatment and did everything they could in court to get out of any responsibility for the tragic fate of their current and former employees. This stance was certainly motivated by greed, but I also wonder how much was motivated by the fact that the vast majority of the victims were women in a time period when women were not seen to have as many rights as men.
Technology and advancements are often wonderful things that make our lives easier and better. Sadly, while radium did save lives in WWI, it came with a heavy price on the home-front. It makes me wonder how many of our current technologies will later be seen as something that causes health problems. Is progress worth sacrificing the lives of innocent workers?
If you're interested in WWI home-front experiences, women's history, or industrial history, this is a must read. The Radium Girls is a fascinating, tragic look into the lives of ordinary women who left a bittersweet legacy behind as they fought for the rights of workers in a time when so many wanted to silence their voices. Kate Moore did an outstanding job of putting faces and names on this tragedy. This novel made me want a time machine so I could go back and rewrite history, saving these women from their horrible fate.
One Last Gripe: There were a lot of people to keep straight. I appreciated the list of figures in the beginning, but it would derail my reading flow to have to stop and look someone up.
Favorite Thing About This Book: Learning a new aspect of WWI era life
First Sentence: The scientist had forgotten all about the radium....more
Ruby has always been the twin in the shadow, the one who fades into the background when her brighter twin, Sadie, is around. Ruby is convinced that most people in her small Maine town would forget she existed if get face wasn't an identical copy of Sadie's. When Sadie passes away from a terminal disease, Ruby has no choice but to come out of her sister's shadow, but she isn't happy about drawing peoples' notice.
Ruby is forced beyond her comfort zone when she enlists Elliot Thorne, local folklore and linguistic expert, to help her fulfill her sister's dying wish - to find the treasure on Gray Wolf Island. Elliott's family has been searching for the infamous treasure for generations, so he jumps at the chance to be part of Ruby's excursion. He also recruits help in the form of his two best friends, Gabe and Charlie. Gabe is rumored to be the son of a virgin while Charlie has the power to foresee his own death. The final member of the team is Anne, a girl who owns a boat and never sleeps. Originally she is recruited as a means of transport to the island, but soon becomes a close friend to everyone in the group. The camaraderie between the quintet was one of my favorite aspects of the novel.
There were moments reading Gray Wolf Island that brought to mind The Goonies, but on the whole this is a much darker story. I loved the eerie atmosphere of this novel and the quest for the treasure. I found the parallels between Ruby's treasure hunt and real life to be all too apparent. We are often trying to outrun the things that make us disappointed in ourselves while hunting for the ultimate thing to make us happy. Everyone's notion of treasure is different, but very rarely riches solve problems. Ultimately, we have to face our own demons at some point in order to find true happiness.
The characters that inhabit this novel are complex and flawed. I grew to care for each one - despite some of their horrendous past choices. Those choices did alter how I saw the character, but I was never able to truly dislike them. Be prepared to have your brain focused on ethical dilemmas and your heart torn by impossible choices.
I loved the writing style of this one. It was beautiful and alluring with the right amount of balance between serious, mysterious, and humorous. The banter between Ruby and Elliot was a nice way to cut the tension. I also adored Charlie's sense of humor.
My only small complaint with this one was the pacing. It felt disjointed in some spots; some segments lagged while others felt like they were traveling at breakneck speed. I still kept reading at a voracious pace as I needed to know how things would end up for Ruby and the rest of the group.
If you're looking for a mystery with elements of magical realism, realistic fiction, and adventure, this is a must read.
One Last Gripe: My only gripe was the pacing issue mentioned in the review.
Favorite Thing About This Book: There is so much to love, but if I must choose one thing, I'd say the characters.
First Sentence: It's no secret that somebody else has to die.
I adore the historical fiction of Hazel Gaynor, so I was excited when I heard about this novel. My only experience with Heather Webb was in an anthology of WWI fiction, but her contribution to the collection was one of my favorite segments. I was interested to see how these two writers would tackle a co-constructed piece.
The novel is told through a series of letters revolving around Thomas Harding, a young British soldier, and Evie Elliott, the younger sister of Thomas' best friend and fellow soldier, Will. I was not expecting an epistolary, but the format worked well based on the circumstances. I could almost feel the worry, intensity, and loneliness of the war years as it seeped through the letters. It was an intriguing format that pulled the reader into the action and let them experience in a different than way than a traditional novel.
The novel opens as Thomas is facing down the last days of life. He has the bundle of precious letters that tell the history of the war years (1914-1918) for him, his family, and his friends, but there is one letter that is unopened, the very last one. He is supposed to open it on Christmas Eve in Paris. Christmas in Paris is certainly on my bucket list. There is something magical about the city at that time of year. I crave a chance to see the Eiffel Tower covered in snow. This journey for Thomas is more than sight seeing jaunt in a beloved city though. He knows that the ghosts of his past will be waiting for him.
As the novel progresses, there is romance and sorrow, two traits that are often present in any story concerning WWI. I was caught up in the letters and wanted to see how everything connected from the war years to the more modern time frame of the 1960's.
As I wrap up my last review of 2017, I am so glad it was this novel that held my heart and mind as the old year starts to fade away and the new year begins to gear up with all its hope and possibilities. I am reminded that love is truly one of the most powerful forces on Earth. If you're a fan of historical fiction, I highly recommend spending some time with Thomas and Evie at any point during the year.
One Last Gripe: I enjoyed some of the year segments slightly more than others.
Favorite Thing About This Book: Learning more about women and their roles during WWI
First Sentence: Life is forever changed without her; without the sense of her somewhere near.
Favorite Character: Evie
Least Favorite Character: I didn't have one....more
The Titanic has always been one of my historical interests. As a kid, I devoured every book and documentary on the tragedy. My heart ached for those who lost loved ones and I wanted to know more about the survivors. As an adult, my desire to learn more about the event hasn't waned. I had heard of Lucille (aka Lucy) Duff-Gordon because of her connection to the Titanic, but I didn't know about her sister, Elinor (aka Nellie) Glyn, the famous writer. This pair of sisters were the sort to fight against the gender norms of their time and seek to establish themselves as strong female presences in the world of fashion and entertainment. They did not become wives and mothers who faded into the obscurity of domestic life.
The novel chronicles the pair when they are teens living on the island of Jersey and longing to escape to the more cosmopolitan cities like Paris and London. The sisters desperately hope to marry well to avoid being stuck in a small town like their mother. They want a passionate love with a soulmate like the love that existed between their mother and father prior to their father's death. Both of the girls must learn to navigate the social norms of their time and station in their quest to find a love match and the freedom to express their creativity with silk and sentences.
The later sections of the novel focus on the sisters as they age and their careers evolve. To my delight, there was information about Lucy's trip on the Titanic. I had no idea she almost became a victim on the Lusitania as well, but cancelled at the last minute; she truly seemed to have had nine lives. I also enjoyed learning about Nellie's career and her "scandalous" stories. Both of these women were spitfires that led fascinating lives. I found myself wanting to be friends with both Lucy and Nellie.
The best part of this novel for me, history aside, was the bond between these sisters. Throughout all the ups and downs, they remained loyal and steadfast. It was also nice to see a little feminism and girl power in a time when women were heavily restricted in society.
One Last Gripe: I was put off by the vanity of the women from time to time. It seemed to make them forget where they came from as they aged.
Favorite Thing About This Book: Learning more about female history
First Sentence: "If we are caught, we'll be in beastly trouble for this," Nellie said, tugging at her sister's sleeve as they opened the door to the ladies' cloakroom of Government House and darted inside.
Favorite Character: Lucy
Least Favorite Character: Lucy's first husband...more
I am a huge fan of Adriana Trigiani's work and while I adore spending time in Big Stone Gap, I prefer her historical fiction novels. I was excited to add this one to my reading list the moment I heard about it. You can always expect a character driven story with meticulous historical details, conflicts of the heart, and an Italian flare when you read a Trigiani novel. She never ceases to pull me into the time period she is writing about and I can visualize the characters as if they could walk off the page.
This novel is set in the late 40's after WWII has come to a close. The opening focuses on a small town in Italy that has faced numerous problems due to the war. This small Italian town will become intertwined with the town of Roseto in Pennsylvania as well as the life of Nicky Castone, the nephew of a working class Italian American family in Philadelphia that own a cab company. Nicky's parents died when he was young and as for long as he can remember his aunt and uncle have served as his parental figures. Nicky is an intriguing character who is struggling with finding his place in the world.
It was also interesting to see how various things such as socioeconomic status, race, and religion played out in this time period and neighborhood.
The beginning of the novel is a slow burn with a lot of background. It's important for understanding the setting and the character dynamics, but it can be overwhelming at times. I found that taking frequent breaks during the first half helped me stay motivated. I knew the second half pay off would be worth it and it so was.
Reading Kiss Carlo is like eating a strawberry napoleon - multilayered, complex, and immensely satisfying. I highly recommend this for fans of historical fiction or character driven novels. I am excited to reread this one when I have more time to linger over the prose and I am less stressed out by real life.
One Last Gripe: The beginning felt like a lot to wade through, but looking back, I know it was necessary to build the story.
Favorite Thing About This Book: Learning how all the pieces fit together
First Sentence: A cool breeze shook the old wind chimes on the balcony outside the ambassador's bedroom.
Somehow in all of my studies for my degree in history I never heard about the Osage murders. I recently read Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham (which I LOVED - feel free to check out my review) which mentioned the Osage tribe and its headrights. I wanted to know more and a quick google search put this book on my radar. I decided it would be a good place to start learning more about the tribe.
The Osage reservation is located in Oklahoma, but historically the tribe was spread through much of the Great Plains in the present-day states of Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Like so many tribal groups, the Osage were forced off their land by white settlers (including Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family) and had to seek refuge in Indian Territory, located in the present day state of Oklahoma. The tribe purchased land from the Cherokee nation in an area they believed to be useless to the whites. The Chief at the time hoped this would keep the white settlers from attacking his people and taking their lands once again. Little did he know that the reservation was located on some of the best oil fields in the United States. In addition, legislation such as the Dawes Act would greatly impact the land holdings of the Osage.
Once the oil was discovered, the Osage Chief negotiated underground reservation rights with the US government in order to be sure that his people benefited from the discovery. Each member of the tribe would receive a headright based on the mineral rights of the land. Oil production brought vast wealth to the Osage, but this would attract unsavory and corrupt people to walk among the Natives. These people were often whites who were seeking ways to increase their own fortune at the expense of the Osage. A guardianship system made it illegal for the Osage to manage their own funds. A white guardian was appointed to each tribal member who had a headright; these guardians decided how the money could be spent and when. In some cases, the corruption of the guardians had devastating consequences. One example in the book discusses a woman with a sick child who cannot afford to get medical treatment even though she was wealthy because her guardian denied her request for funds. Her child ended up dying as a result. The guardianship process made me both angry and heartbroken. So many innocents lives were impacted by malicious greed.
The book largely focuses on the mysterious deaths within one family. Mollie Burkhart's family members have been systematically killed off one by one, but nobody seems to know the identity of the culprit. Those who try to intervene on behalf of the Osage are often met with threats or violence, but Mollie needs answers. She has to know why one sister was shot and another was in her home when a bomb exploded. It's also not just Mollie's family that is dealing with death and tragedy. Almost every Osage family has one or more family members that have died under mysterious circumstances. It doesn't appear that anyone in Oklahoma is willing to help the tribe, but the death toll attracts the attention of J. Edgar Hoover who sends in an FBI team to solve the case.
The book unfolds in three distinct parts. The first part focuses on Mollie Burkhart and her family. Readers learn more about the history of the Osage as well as the dynamics within Mollie's family. This segment puts a human face on the history. It's impossible to read the remainder of the book without thinking of the atrocities that this family faced. I don't know how Mollie was able to survive through the heartbreak. There were moments when I had to take a break from this one as my heart hurt too much to carry on. It's not an easy thing to read. It hurts my heart to think of how evil some people can be. The second section of the book focuses on the investigation into the murders and revolves around Tom White, the FBI agent in charge. Tom White is certainly one of the men history needs to remember. His courage and tenacity were admirable traits. Lastly, the third section focuses on the author and his research process. He discusses visiting the Osage reservation and touring the locales mentioned in the book.
While Mollie Burkhart got her answers, so many other Osage did not. There was not one grand plot behind all the deaths, but rather they were perpetrated by a variety of people. The losses still have lingering effects on the tribe even into modern times. I wish the Osage had never had to experience the "Reign of Terror". I don't understand how people can allow greed and corruption to fester to the point where they are willing to do anything to get their hands on money and goods.
In addition to learning a vast amount about the Osage and these horrific murders, I also learned about the early days of the FBI. The Osage murders would be the first murder case taken on by the bureau. It was not without its mistakes, but largely justice was served, at least concerning Mollie Burkhart.
I highly recommend this book to those interested in historical nonfiction. I am always eager to learn about groups that haven't always had a voice in the narrative of American History. My heart and mind will never be the same after reading this one.
One Last Gripe: I don't have one.
Favorite Thing About This Book: Adding knowledge to my understanding of Native American cultures and histories
First Sentence: In April, millions of tiny flowers spread over the blackjack hills and vast prairies in the Osage territory of Oklahoma....more
Most people have experienced Charles Dicken's classic, A Christmas Carol, in some format. I have read the original many times, but have always had a particular fondness for Bill Murray's portrayal of Scrooge. Regardless of the form of your experience with the Scrooge lore, we are all familiar with Scrooge's utter lack of holiday spirit and disdain for his fellow man. Sadly, this is not just something that is experienced in fiction. There have even been holiday seasons when the stress of work and life have kept me from reveling in the merriment. We all get beaten down from time to time, but what sets those moments apart from a true Scrooge are the attempts to move beyond the negative and focus on others.
Holly Chase is the ultimate modern day Scrooge. She's had her fair share of tragedy in her young life, but it doesn't give her an excuse to be such a mean girl to her classmates and family. She thrives on making people, like her housekeeper, absolutely miserable. She cares more about makeup, hair color, and name brands that making a difference in the world. She has lost all of her friends and rarely sees her father since he is an in demand film maker in Hollywood. Holly pretends that's it no big deal that her mom died of cancer, her stepmother died after a surgical incident, and her Dad is always on the go. Holly has built a wall around her heart and keeps everyone at bay. Her best friend has dumped her and the housekeeper would probably peace out too if she didn't need the paycheck to take care of her daughter.
Holly doesn't see anything wrong with the way she's living - even when the famous ghosts from Dickens' tale show up to warn her. Nothing truly wakes her up until she finds herself dead from a freak accident outside of her yoga studio and winds up working for Project Scrooge in New York City. Project Scrooge is Holly's shot at redemption. Each year the company identifies a Scrooge who is in need of saving. They want to make the world a better place, one nasty person at a time. Holly is cast into the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past. She finds her life as a "well preserved zombie" to be lackluster. She misses having the funds to do as she pleases, but everything changes the year that Ethan is chosen as the Scrooge. This will be the first time that Holly has had to work to save someone around her own age.
As the Ghost of Christmas Past, Holly is able to get into a person's mind to see their memories to help identify the people and events of their past that will make a difference in trying to alter their future. This experience leads her to go off script while she learns more about herself than she ever thought possible.
Part Christmas classic, part Scrooged, with a dash of Mean Girls, The Afterlife of Holly Chase will have you taking a good look at your actions this holiday season. I, for one, will be a little kinder to my fellow man and offer seasons greetings or a smile to all. A little kindness goes a long way and you never know how much of an impact a positive interaction with someone can impact their day. The world would be a much better place if we all were a little nicer and more understanding. I encourage you to give this read over the holiday season.
One Last Gripe: The beginning was a little slow.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved how Project Scrooge was structured. I'd love to see this novel as a holiday movie.
First Sentence: "Man of the worldly mind!" replied the Ghost, "do you believe in me or not?"
Favorite Character: Boz
Least Favorite Character: Holly - she grows on you, but it took time for me to like her, which makes sense as I had the same feelings about Scrooge in the original tale...more
High school hasn't gone the way Grace planned. She never expected one of the star athletes to fall for her nor did she expect to end up pregnant with his child before her Junior year ended, but life has a way of keeping us on our toes. Grace's life crumbles after finding out she's pregnant. She never hesitates though - she knows that she must put the baby up for adoption. As much as she loves the child growing within her, she doesn't feel it would be fair to keep the baby when Grace can't provide a stable home. She isn't ready for the life of a single mom when she hasn't finished school and has no job prospects. She spends hours pouring over information about potential parents trying to choose the best possible mom and dad for her little girl.
While she is struggling with these choices, her ex-boyfriend is dating a "good" girl and preparing for the homecoming dance. In those moments when Grace was suffering and overwhelmed, I despised Max and his parents. They tried to place all the blame for the pregnancy on Grace when it truly takes two. Max was able to go on with his life with no repercussions while Grace was forced to endure rude comments, bullying, and unfair treatment. Why do we have this double standard? Why is teen pregnancy so often seen as the problem of the mother?
Grace's experience makes her crave a chance to find her own birth mother. Her parents have never made it a secret that she was adopted. They have always told her that when she was ready (if that day came) they would help her find answers to her questions. Grace gets far more than she bargained for when she learns that has an older brother, Joaquin, and a younger sister, Maya. She decides she needs to make contact with both of her siblings. In the beginning, for Grace, this is a way of finding redemption after making the choice to give her daughter up. She wants to know that her birth mother gave her up for good reasons in spite of loving her and wanting to keep her. She hopes her siblings feel the same.
While Grace has been raised as an only child, her biological siblings have had different upbringings. Joaquin has been in foster care since the age of one. He feels like an abandoned sailboat left to the mercy of the waves. He has bounced from home to home and hasn't truly found where he belongs, but thinks it may be with his current foster parents, who truly seem to care about him. He is just as surprised as Grace to learn that he has biological siblings. Maya, on the other hand, appears to have a charmed life with her well off parents and younger sister, but she has her own share of demons lurking in the corners. She also isn't sure how to handle having biological siblings, but she doesn't cut their biological mom any slack. She firmly believes that there is no good reason for putting your kids up for adoption. Her staunch stance on the issue will cause a rift between her and Grace until things come to light. The siblings spend the novel learning what it means to be family and trying to decide if they want to look for their mother.
The notion of family is an important concept in this novel. What truly makes a family? Is it biology? Is it love? Can your friends become your family? I think pondering this notion is intriguing and provides a theme that will resonate with young adult and adult readers alike.
One Last Gripe: As mentioned in the review, I was frustrated by Max and his parents' response to Grace's pregnancy.
Favorite Thing About This Book: The nature imagery that was scattered throughout the novel
First Sentence: Grace wasn't one of those girls who was always fantasizing about homecoming.
The love triangle trope is one of my least favorite things in YA literature. It ranks up there with instalove in my opinion as one of the things to be avoided at all costs. So, why in the world did I jump at the chance to review this anthology that is all about love triangles? The answer to that question is simple - just look at that author list! I was excited to see some of my favorites such as Katie Cotugno and Tessa Gratton, but was also intrigued to read work from authors I have never read before. While I didn't love every single story in this collection, I did find merit in each one. Natalie C. Parker has collected stories from a wide range of genres that capture diverse and detailed characters. I am in awe of the way each author was able to craft such a detailed piece in so few pages. I bow down to their writing prowess.
As with other anthologies I have reviewed in the past, I will be giving a brief description of each short story as well as my thoughts on the characters, plot, etc. I also have pulled some of my favorite quotations to share to give you a flavor of the various writing styles you can expect from picking this one up. I still may not adore the love triangle in novels, but I do have a new appreciation for the complexities it can bring to a story after spending time with this collection.
Natalie C. Parker best explains why the love triangle captures readers' imaginations when she writes in the Introduction, "Perhaps you lost your heart out on the moor of England, or secretly wished the cards fell in Olivia's favor. Or perhaps you started a petition to end any and all fictional romantic entanglements involving more than two people" (Kindle Location 46). I think we have all had those moments when we were caught up in a love triangle and weren't sure which couple to ship, but I also more often than not find myself lodged in the second half of her statement. I decided to put my personal bias about love triangles aside and go into this with an open mind.
One Last Gripe: I would have liked to see a few more paranormal pieces. That's just a personal preference though.
Favorite Things About This Book: I loved the Savannah settings. It's always such fun to read stories set in places I have actually been. I also liked seeing the diversity in the characters. There is truly something for everyone in this collection.
First Sentence: The love triangle.
Favorite Character: Esther from "Unus, Duo, Tres" by Bethany Hagen
Least Favorite Character: Elle from "Vega" by Brenna Yovanoff
**My review is too long for Goodreads, so for specifics for each story, you'll have to check it out on the blog. Link is at the top of the post.**...more
Have you ever had one of those best friends that becomes such an integral part of your universe you aren't sure how you'd ever function if they weren't around? I certainly envied friendships like that as a teen, but while I had some strong ones, I didn't have anything remotely like the friendship that exists between Gabby and Ryan. The pair has been through their ups and downs, but somehow they always manage to come out on the other side still friends. But can they keep their friendship in place when romance enters the picture?
Gabby has always been the wallpaper sort of girl. She likes to blend in and observe, but never wants to call attention to herself. Due to severe anxiety, Gabby often misses out on experiences in high school because she is not willing to get professional help and new people cause her to have panic attacks. On the other hand, Ryan is popular and outgoing. As one of the stars of the high school hockey team, he doesn't mind the spotlight. The pair strike up an unlikely friendship during their freshman year of high school which will sustain them through graduation when things get a bit more complicated. The novel is about growing up, firsts and lasts, and that one person who gets you but loves you in spite of your shortcomings. Standing on the cusp of high school and college is a scary place, but with friends supporting you and dreams to follow, anything is possible.
One of the strengths of this novel is Gabby's relationship with her family. She has a typical existence with two sisters - arguments but genuine love. I was most impressed by her parents. They make mistakes with their kids (what parent doesn't?) but they always want their girls to be happy. They are supportive of Gabby's choices and welcome Ryan into their family traditions with open arms. So often in YA novels, the parents are absent and oblivious. It was nice to see a set of parents who were positive role models.
The timeline of the novel makes for an interesting narrative as it bounces between past and present. The structure also mimics the top ten lists that Gabby and Ryan enjoy creating together. It took awhile to settle into this style, but I found that it worked and made the novel more memorable. I also liked that the narration switches between Gabby and Ryan. I'm a fan of novels that have two main characters providing insight into the action and conflicts.
For me, the biggest frustration I had with this novel was the choices made by Gabby and Ryan. Their interactions with one another as well as their lack of being upfront about their feelings at times made me question their intentions. As they aged, their relationship evolved, and by the last chapter I felt like they had both matured and found the perfect spot to exist, but it took some time and a lot of growing pains. I also felt like a lot of the friction in their friendship stemmed from the fact that they were both stubborn and insecure. I did like that they tried to help the other one see past their weaknesses and focus on the things they had control over.
One Last Gripe: The ending felt lackluster.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I felt like this novel tackled some important issues and presented them in realistic yet respectful manner.
First Sentence: Sitting with his ankles crossed in Gabby's leafy green backyard two hours after their high school graduation, Ryan tilted his head back and squinted up at the proud June sun.
Mira Minkoba is a symbol of hope for the people in the Fallen Isles. She has been paraded in front of crowds since her father named the famous Mira Treaty after her. It's odd for Mira to know that people see her as an example when she feels like a pretty face hiding anxiety and self doubt. She feels that aside from her looks, she may not have much worth, so she throws herself into her friendships and spending time with her beloved dragons in their sanctuary, but everything shifts when she discovers a secret that shakes the core of her foundation. Mira finds herself thrown into prison and must learn to survive on her wits and strength.
Mira was easy for me to like from the beginning of the novel. I understood her feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. To find your life completely upended is difficult enough, but Mira must also learn to stand on her own when she has always been taken care of and sheltered in the past. A life of privilege does not prepare one for life in a prison cell.
As the story comes together, Mira's secrets come to light and her imprisonment begins to make more sense. Secrets never stay buried and Mira begins to learn more than she could have possibly imagined about her government. I loved watching her view of her world shift. It also seems incredibly timely to read a YA novel that has the main character questioning what her government has told her.
The setting and characters make this a worthwhile read. I also can't resist dragons. My biggest complaint with this one was pacing. The first third of the novel took some effort on my part. Mira's first few days dragged, but the pace began to pick up around the middle.
If you're looking for a fantasy novel that explores mental health and political intrigue, I'd recommend picking this novel up.
One Last Gripe: As mentioned in the review, the beginning felt super slow.
Favorite Thing About This Book: Mira's character development