Four Stars, Low Language, Low Religion, Low Romance, Moderate Violence

Your Escape

Last week I escaped to my sister’s house. Our kids are similar ages and they easily occupy each other. Leaving us free to read, talk books and just chill. It was amazing. One book we had both recently read was Chalon Linton‘s Escape to Everly Manor.

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“Nineteen-year-old Lizzy and her young brother, Thomas, find themselves orphaned after a tragic accident claims the lives of their parents. Their estranged Uncle Cline arrives to claim his inheritance, and his roguish ways cast a shadow over the manor. Both the family estate and guardianship of his niece and nephew were left to him, and diabolical Uncle Cline is determined to indulge in his newfound wealth and rid himself of his charges. Desperate to save her brother from a dangerous life at sea, and herself from being married off to a detestable old gentleman, Lizzy knows there is only one choice left—they must run.

Lizzy and Thomas sneak away and find refuge in an abandoned cabin. There they remain hidden—until fate acquaints Lizzy with Mr. Barton, a charming gentleman who is immediately intrigued by the mysterious young woman. Concealing her identity, Lizzy is unaware that there is much more to this compassionate man than meets the eye. Through his kindness to herself and her brother, Lizzy begins to trust him. Soon Lizzy realizes Mr. Barton may be her best hope for a life in which she can live—and love—as she chooses . . .”

Sometimes when you read a lot of books in the same genre they can start to seem slightly repetitive in their tropes and even some of the subplots. It can be easy to see where the story is headed. Chalon Linton’s story was uniquely it’s own and went in unexpected directions. I loved that.  The plot was a little heavy on the drama for my tastes, and there were a few plot points that were a little confusing, but the story moved at a good pace and held my interest.

Chalon Linton has excellent character development and I was delightfully surprised that the story turned out to be from both points of view.  The author’s description of Lizzy’s emotions made you feel as if you were in Lizzy’s head without being in first person. You’ll quickly fall in love with the characters and root for them through to the end.

 

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4 1/2 stars, Joanna Barker, Low Language, Low Religion, Low Romance, Low Violence

Charades

My family and I are currently living in a state of displacement. We sold our current home rather quickly, consequently our next house isn’t quite ready for us. So we are living off the generosity of those who will let us impose on them until it is.

We are vacationing and visiting family and trying to make it more of an adventure for our kids. With each person we impose upon and with so many people under one roof, I rather feel like we’re going from one house party to another.

I think maybe I’ll convince the kids to play charades, or lawn bowls with me tomorrow. Though if we played it as they do in Joanna Barker‘s Miss Adeline’s Match, according to the regency era’s use of the word, they might wonder why they were hearing riddles instead of acting something out.

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Miss Adeline Hayes is the perfect lady’s companion: pleasant, conversational, and unceasingly proper. But when her closest friend, Charity Edgeworth, breaks off her arranged marriage without explanation, even Adeline’s superior skills are put to the test. Charity’s father banishes the two young women to the country, sending Adeline with a charge to find Charity a husband—or suffer dire consequences.

As Adeline takes on the role of reluctant matchmaker, she discovers more than one obstacle in her path. Not only does Charity prefer escaping in books to socializing, but Adeline soon finds her own attentions distracted by the standoffish—and irritatingly handsome—Mr. Evan Whitfield. Amidst an eventful foxhunt and the unexpected arrival of Charity’s former betrothed, Adeline simply doesn’t have time for a battle of wits with Evan. But the two are continually drawn together until Adeline begins to question her tightly guarded convictions about love and marriage.

However, when secrets are revealed and truths made known, Adeline must face her most fearsome obstacle yet: herself.

I loved how Joanna developed Adeline’s character. Even though the story was from her point of view, so often she was acting a charade, that the reader was slowing learning about as she was learning about herself.

Often when you have a book written in first person the personalities of the other characters is over shadowed by the emotions and thoughts of the main characters. I didn’t get that feeling in this book. Even though you’re reading from Adeline’s point of view, the other characters clearly have their own tone and voice. It added depth to not just the characters, but the whole plot.

I love Joanna’s stories, the story lines are always unique and unpredictable.  They fall under what I like to call realistic fairy tales. They have all the magic of a romance, while being wholly realistic about human nature and failings. The hero and heroine are people you can relate to and root for.

There was a point where I wanted to shout, “Duh, Adeline! The answer is staring you right in the face”… and I loved it! I had gotten so entrenched in the story and the characters that I was attempting to have a persuasive conversations with fictional characters. Having that kind of pull over a reader is some awesome writing my friends.

Five Stars, Low Language, Low Religion, Low Romance, Low Violence

A Proper Surprise

I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately where I’d rather binge watch Netflix than read. *Gasp* I know. The other day I finally decided I was done with shows and needed a good read. I picked up, A Proper Scandal by Esther Hatch. I loved this sweet story.
If you recall, if you don’t maybe I shouldn’t remind you… but, we didn’t love Esther Hatch’s debut novel The Roses of Feldstone.
However, I did not even hesitate to pick this one up, I knew that sometimes not loving a book has absolutely nothing to do with the author. Some of my very favorite authors have books I don’t love.
We loved this one!
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Grace Sinclair has been callously cast out of her home. And though taken in as an orphaned child by the vicar and his wife, her unsurpassed beauty makes it impossible for her to remain in the vicar’s household—with two daughters of their own about to enter Society, the vicar and his wife see Grace as nothing but competition. Thankfully, Grace’s estranged Aunt Bell has agreed to take her in to her home in London. But Grace soon learns her situation has just gotten much worse.
It takes only a moment’s acquaintance for Grace to ascertain that her aunt has married a detestable rake. And Aunt Bell, recognizing the danger of having her lovely niece too near her husband, gives Grace an ultimatum: the young woman has two weeks to find a man to marry, after which she will be turned out. With no experience in the art of attracting a husband, Grace quickly realizes that a worthy suitor might not be so easy to ensnare.
I love how she wrote Grace’s character so up front and honest. Her story line was a different take than I had read before and I love how she didn’t hold back.
 I would love to know more about Lord Bryant. He could have a really interesting story. The side characters were written really well, interesting enough to round out the book, but not distract from it.
The author also did a great job of writing from the male perspective. It’s no surprise that men often lead with the physical. Often an author leaves it at that and doesn’t  develop the man’s perspective beyond that; which leaves you with a very two dimensional character. I really like how Esther made him still very much a man, but well balanced.
There are so many re-readable scenes in this book. I would read more of Esther Hatch in a heartbeat.  –M.V.
Four Stars, Stephanie Garber

Daily Double

My local book club recently read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I was super excited about this pick because as sisters we had just finished reading Finale by Stephanie Garber. All three of us really enjoyed the whole Caraval series, and I had heard the two books were very similar. I must admit I found they were similar only so far as apples and oranges are both fruit. They’re both a little bit darker fantasy that revolve around a game, with excellent imagery and a romance thrown in, and that’s about it.

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“It’s been two months since the Fates were freed from a deck of cards, two months since Legend claimed the throne for his own, and two months since Tella discovered the boy she fell in love with doesn’t really exist.

With lives, empires, and hearts hanging in the balance, Tella must decide if she’s going to trust Legend or a former enemy. After uncovering a secret that upends her life, Scarlett will need to do the impossible. And Legend has a choice to make that will forever change and define him.

Caraval is over, but perhaps the greatest game of all has begun. There are no spectators this time: only those who will win, and those who will lose everything.”

The Caraval Series is in the young adult genre, and is very much written as such. Which I have no problems with. If a novel is marketed as young adult, it should be written towards a young adult audience, which gives it a little bit different feel. It has all the elements a young adult novel should have, the battle between good and evil, the journey of the heroes, the transistion of someone becoming more than they were. Finale has all of these wrapped up in an exciting and unexpected story.

All three of us sisters loved that Finale was written from both Tella and Scarlet’s point of view. Stephanie Garber balanced the two perspectives very well, each sister’s voice was consistent and strong through their chapters.

There were a few surprises, and Stephanie has a beautiful way of showing and not just telling, she paints striking pictures with her words. The one element I had a hard time with was how much she used blood in this last novel. There had been glimpses of it in the other two, but it seemed a little overwhelmingly used in this one. Instead of an interesting twist in the story it became something that pulled me out and made me go, “weird”.

Stephanie Garber developed both love stories really well and left the readers delightfully satisfied at the end.

****low language, moderate violence, moderate romance

 

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“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night. 

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.”

The Night Circus is definitely written for a more mature audience. Not only are the elements more mature, but the writing as a whole is on a more philosophical level. Both books were written very well for their intended audiences, but The Night Circus is definitely an more intellectual read.

Erin Morgenstern also has an incredible way of showing and not just telling. I could not only see each new aspect of the circus, but I could smell it, and taste it; she constantly made me hungry. Her metaphors created this whimsical magical lightness that captivated the reader all while telling a rather dark and foreboding tale that is anything but. It is miraculously done.

I felt like Marcus’ confession of love kind of came out of the blue. I was surprised at the lack of relationship development. I was surprised to find the relationship development come after his confession. You slowly see all the things he’s done for her through the circus. Though the relationship was beautifully developed, it was interesting to see it done in almost a reverse.

Poppet and Widget were fantastic comic relief, they were possibly my favorite characters.

Though the book leaves you with a very satisfied ending, you’re also left with a lot of wonderings. Good books make you think and feel, and The Night Circus definitely does that.

****high language, moderate violence, high romance

A few Explanations: There was not a lot of language, but there were a few harsher words (that were not just historically inaccurate, but a little out of place). The overall book is not racy, but there is one scene that pushes the book into high instead of moderate romance.

 

Four Stars, Low Language, Low Romance, Low Violence, Moderate Religion

“Aren’t Books Pure Joy?”

A few years back I picked up a book entitled Dear Mr Knightley, for obvious Jane Austen reasons. I was delightfully surprised to find a more Daddly-Long-legs story. Possibly the best version I’ve read. I was instantly pulled into the story and loved the entire book. I recently came across another book, also by Katherine Reay, and picked it up without hesitation.

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“One of Madeline Cullen’s happiest childhood memories is of working with her Aunt Maddie in the quaint and cozy Printed Letter Bookshop. But by the time Madeline inherits the shop nearly twenty years later, family troubles and her own bitter losses have hardened Madeline’s heart toward her once-treasured aunt—and the now struggling bookshop left in her care.

While Madeline intends to sell the shop as quickly as possible, the Printed Letter’s two employees have other ideas. Reeling from a recent divorce, Janet finds sanctuary within the books and within the decadent window displays she creates. Claire, though quieter than the acerbic Janet, feels equally drawn to the daily rhythms of the shop and its loyal clientele, finding a renewed purpose within its walls.

When Madeline’s professional life falls apart, and a handsome gardener upends all her preconceived notions, she questions her plans and her heart. Has she been too quick to dismiss her aunt’s beloved shop? And even if she has, the women’s best combined efforts may be too little, too late.”

I’ll admit I had a harder time getting into this book. It took effort to remember which character was attached to which background and story as she jumped back and forth. It was not an “easy” read, the pacing was a little slow. It was however, beautifully worded, and deeply moving. I loved all the book references, and the lovely description of the small town and its quaint bookshop.

Four Stars, Low Language, Low Religion, Moderate Romance, Moderate Violence

Historical Spymance

I love history and I learning little details, but I’m finding there is a very fine line that must be walked between the history and the fiction. Too heavy on either end and it comes across as too dry or not believable. Laura Beers did a great job of blending the historical and the fictional in her novel The Baron’s Daughter.

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Lord Morgan Easton is, first and foremost, an agent of the Crown. To achieve his purposes, he has become Society’s golden boy, and a renowned rake. When it’s discovered that notorious French spy, Genet, is attending a house party in a small seaside village, he is tasked to infiltrate the gathering and arrest the spy. But first, he must convince a certain woman to become his partner and pose as his wife. The challenge is that she would rather see him dead.

Miss Josette Northcott guards her secrets fiercely, trusts few, and enjoys the anonymity that goes along with being the headmistress of a private school in the rookeries. When Lord Morgan offers her a deal she can’t refuse, she makes it clear that this is nothing more than a business arrangement. No man, no matter how charming or infuriatingly handsome he is, can know the truth of her sordid and twisted past.  

Morgan and Josette must learn to trust each other however, trust does not come easily to either agent, and when the truth of Josette’s past is finally unveiled, will they be able to accept that not only is their mission on the line, but their hearts, as well?

Though I have read some of the Beckett Files, I haven’t read them all. And unfortunately for me I had not yet read book 5 when I was sent book 6. I wish I would’ve read that one first, though not strictly necessary, I do find there were some plot holes that could have helped my understanding of the characters personalities and current situations at the opening of the story.

Despite the missing pieces of the main character’s history together, I didn’t love them any less. They were well written and engaging. The mystery was intriguing enough that though I guessed Genet’s identity early on, I was never one hundred percent sure I was correct in my guess.

Laura Beers presented the side characters so well that you were always guessing at their allegiance and trying to piece together the puzzle, a mark of a great spy novel.

I always read the book blurb before I read the book, this time I wish I hadn’t. I mistakenly assumed more about Josette’s past than it entailed, but it was a pleasant surprise, one I was happy to be wrong about. I think I would like to read it again with out the assumptions I went in with the first time.

I was intrigued with her pieces of history. On a side note, this was one of few regency books that not only discussed The Whigs and The Tories, but gave you a very good layman’s description of the difference between the two. It was a well researched and delightfully mysterious regency spy novel.

Don’t you think that should be a genre? We have a whole section on our Pinterest Reviews board dedicated to them, we call it Historical Spymance, you should check it out!

Five Stars, Josi S. Kilpack, Low Language, Low Religion, Low Romance, Low Violence

Just Friends

I’ve been richly blessed in my life to have some of the best people as friends. I’m twice blessed. When one of those friends expressed interest in me and I told him, “I think we should just be friends” (no joke, those cringe worthy words came out of my mouth) he allowed it, and even embraced it. It took me two more years of friendship to realize I couldn’t live without him, but I married him and have loved our love story ever since.

That’s probably why stories with a friends to lovers trope hold a special place in my heart. Especially ones that are done as well as Josi Kilpack‘s Daisies and Deovotion.

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Timothy Mayfield has nearly given up on his search for a wife. Then his Uncle Elliott presents to him a solution: participate in his “marriage campaign,” and upon approval of his choice for a wife, Timothy’s inheritance will be his.

Freed from the constraints of having to marry for money, Timothy is ready to marry for love instead. And he knows exactly what he wants in a wife. His friend, Maryann Morrington, an heiress in her own right, tells him outright that his expectations are ridiculous–no such woman exists. 

Miss Shaw appears to fulfill every single item on Timothy’s list. But when Timothy and Miss Shaw begin courting, Timothy realizes something profound. He’d rather spend his time with Maryann. Timothy must convince Maryann that she is the very woman he’d been looking for all along before it is too late.

This story pulled me right in sooner than some of her others have. I fell in love with Timothy and Maryann’s relationship right away.  Their honesty with each other made the novel refreshing and their relationship more meaningful. There were some beautifully written transitions in the development of their relationship.

I loved how Timothy’s character was written; I both loved him and wanted to shake him. Josi did a fantastic job of making his complete and utter lack of awareness believable and ridiculously adorable.  I liked him so well there were times I felt like the perspective was a little heavy on Maryann’s point of view. I’d turn to a new chapter and be slightly disappointed that we were still in Maryann’s head, and wishing for more from Timothy.

The focus on Maryann however allowed Josi to pull you more fully into Maryann’s emotions. The way Josi wrote Maryann’s emotions made them so real, in a way that allowed you to feel her hurt. Her unrequited love was written so well it was painful, and yet endearing.

There was only one thing that pulled me out of the story a few times. Maryann’s frequent lack and then need for a chaperone was a little confusing. I couldn’t figure out why she sometimes needed one and sometimes didn’t. However, it didn’t detract enough for me to not come away completely loving this book! I’m so excited to see what comes next in this series.

3 1/2 Stars, Low Romance, Low Violence, Moderate Language, Moderate Religion

Perspective

Confession for you all, I have always been more on the sensitive side I cry during movies, watching TV, and while reading books. Heavens, I’ve even cried watching facebook videos! Since having my first baby however, my hormones (lets just blame it on the hormones) have been out of control.

So Healed by Miranda Lotz may not have been the best choice, it is 100% a heart wrencher. I cried through more than half of it.

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“Stephanie knows God answers her prayers. Giving birth to her daughter after five miscarriages is proof of that. 

But when baby Abby is diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy and treatments begin to spiral out of control, Stephanie is left to question why a God of miracles doesn’t guide her to heal Abby.

Stephanie’s husband, Jared, wants to try Mary’s Miracle–an organic CBD oil made from hemp–to treat Abby’s seizures, but Stephanie wants to know what God has planned for them.

As treatments dwindle and options run low, Stephanie must learn how to trust her instincts and follow her heart, finding a path forward for her daughter, and a path back to God for herself.”

The author did a beautiful job of reflecting all the pain hurt and struggle a family can go through when they find out hard news about their little angels. Miranda Lotz’s writing not only pulls on your heart strings, but gives you perspective. She did a very good job of making you feel and understand all the emotions.

I did struggle a little with the points of view it was written in, the chapters were labeled with the person’s name, but every now and then it seemed to switch to third person or even a completely different view.

Be aware of the sensitive nature of this book before you decide if it’s for you. Also a few other points: The book is very heavily religious as this family struggles in understanding why God would allow this, but it’s not preachy. There is heavier language than most books we read, so keep that in mind. Lastly, although there is no violence in the book its first chapter is pretty graphic in the telling of her delivery.

That all being said, this is a good book to turn to for perspective, for faith, and for a really good cry. –A.B.

Five Stars, Low Language, Low Romance, Moderate Religion, Moderate Violence

You’re Welcome

My daughter, like every other little girl in the world got caught up in the Frozen saga, the costumes, the dolls, the songs. I’ll be the first to admit I enjoyed both the movie and the soundtrack, but there is a limit to how many times you can press repeat until you just can’t anymore. That’s until Moana came out.

If I got a nickle for every time I heard one of my three kids say “Alexa, play shiny,” “Alexa, play You’re Welcome.” I would be a very rich woman. That I actually didn’t mind too much, it’s adorable to hear a toddler say Alexa, but everything has a limit. Thankfully that phase ended too, but the songs came back very quickly as I read Ilima Todd‘s A Song for the Stars.41wGq01L-LL

“Inspired by a true story

Hawaiian Islands, 1779

As the second daughter of a royal chief, Maile will be permitted to marry for love. Her fiancé is the best navigator in Hawaii, and he taught her everything he knows—how to feel the ocean, observe the winds, read the stars, and how to love.

But when sailors from a strange place called England arrive on her island, a misunderstanding ends in battle, and Maile is suddenly widowed before she is wed.

Finding herself in the middle of the battle and fearing for her life, Maile takes John Harbottle, the wounded man who killed her fiancé, prisoner, and though originally intending to let him die, she reluctantly heals him. And in the process, she discovers the man she thought was her enemy might be her ally instead.

John has been Captain James Cook’s translator for three voyages across the Pacific. He is kind and clearly fascinated with Maile’s homeland and her people—and Maile herself. But guilt continues to drive a wedge between them: John’s guilt over the death he caused, and Maile’s guilt over the truth about what triggered the deadly battle—a secret she’s kept hidden from everyone on the island.”

I’ve never been to Hawaii, it’s definitely on my bucket list though. However Ilima Todd’s imagery painted such a beautiful picture, I felt like I was there. Her descriptions were not just visible either. I felt like I could smell the flowers, hear the waterfall, and feel. I could feel so much, you can tell that this novel contains all of Ilima Todd’s heart, it bleeds through ever page.

That includes Maile. I could feel her confusion, her naivety, and her strength. The switch between John’s journal and Maile’s first person narrative was a perfect way to convey the clash of cultures the misunderstandings and the growing feelings between the two. All were handled so well I found myself laughing and crying and yes even sighing.

I loved how she had John and Maile start out on so completely opposite sides, the conflict between them added depth and a beautiful heartache to the story.

The only thing I struggled with was the wayfaring. For the most part, it was fascinating. I loved how something that was so special to her and Ikaika also brought her closer to John. However there were a few moments when I felt like the wayfaring details slowed down the story right when I felt like it was picking up. This however didn’t take away from the beauty of the novel.

This should definitely be on the top of your TBR pile, you’ll thank me. So in advance… You’re Welcome.

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Four Stars, Low Language, Low Romance, Moderate Religion, Moderate Violence

Bloom in Adversity

When Mulan first came out I thought, finally! We finally have a kick-but Disney princess! The humor of Eddie Murphy and the swoony singing voice of Donny Osmond didn’t hurt the movie either. Incredibly, Melanie Dickerson‘s retelling of Mulan, The Warrior Maiden, only improved upon it.

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When Mulan takes her father’s place in battle against the besieging Teutonic Knights, she realizes she has been preparing for this journey her whole life—and that her life, and her mother’s, depends on her success. As the adopted daughter of poor parents, Mulan has little power in the world. If she can’t prove herself on the battlefield, she could face death—or, perhaps worse, marriage to the village butcher.

Disguised as a young man, Mulan meets the German duke’s son, Wolfgang, who is determined to save his people even if it means fighting against his own brother. Wolfgang is exasperated by the new soldier who seems to be one step away from disaster at all times—or showing him up in embarrassing ways.

From rivals to reluctant friends, Mulan and Wolfgang begin to share secrets. But war is an uncertain time and dreams can die as quickly as they are born. When Mulan receives word of danger back home, she must make the ultimate choice. Can she be the son her bitter father never had? Or will she become the strong young woman she was created to be?

This was one of my favorite of Melanie’s re-tellings. She followed the story really well, but made enhancements that improved on the original.

The gender reveal between the two main characters and then with the rest of the army was handled better than the Disney story we’re familiar with. That was possibly my favorite change. The chemistry was sweet and just right.

The one story element that was odd to me at first was having the attacking army be religious zealots. It made the book feel a little more preachy than some of her others, but overall it worked for the story line and felt natural for the characters she created.

The sidekick maybe didn’t have Eddie Murphy’s humor, but was spot on and really complemented Mulan’s character. –M.V.