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

Disguises

I love Halloween! It’s taken all my self control to not already have my decorations up. My resistance is crumbling however. Saturday is calling my name. It’s not just the decorations I love, it’s the costumes! My family has been planning on going as Toy Story 4 characters since we saw it in July. Yes, we already have them purchased. Yes, I am unashamedly one of those people. I don’t know what it is about costumes and disguises, but I love them!

One of things that first caught my eye when I came across Anneka Walker‘s novel Love in Disguise, aside from the beautiful cover, was the title. I was fascinated with the idea of love being disguised in any way. I never anticipated it involving an actual disguise.

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“Marion Watt is set to embark on her first London Season, and her parents have spared no expense to help her secure a suitable husband. Unlike most of the social-climbing young women in her position, Marion has no desire to marry hastily or for anything less than love. But when she learns of her mother’s declining health, she knows she must keep an open mind and allow herself to be courted. What she does not anticipate, however, is that the attentions of the insufferable Lord William Everton will be placed squarely on her. He might be the most sought-after bachelor of the Season, but she sees in him nothing but a frivolous cad.

Until William inherits his father’s title and seat in parliament, he must rely on his own devices to change the world. Dressing like a ridiculous dandy serves its purposes, but he is certain his newest disguise will help him find a wife to please his parents and further his own agenda. From among the glittering group of debutantes, William finds only one woman who passes his test. Unfortunately, the perfect choice is the only woman in all of London who despises him.”

I was instantly pulled into the book by the situational conflict created within the first few pages. The tension and discomposure between the two characters kept me hooked almost to the very end. There was a decision Marion makes near the end of the book that felt out of character to me and pulled me out of the story. The story slowed a bit pacing wise for me at this point too.

However, I loved the wrap up and their declarations of love were beautifully written and heart warming. I really enjoyed the book and am excited to see what comes next from this debut author. I definitely look forward to reading more of her in the future.

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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.

 

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!

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.

 

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

Always Greener

I have the tendency to be swept up into feelings akin to that old phrase “the grass is always greener,” always wanting.

When I was a young teen I wanted to be 16 so I could drive; then it was, all I want is to graduate and be done with school. After graduation I was a bit boy crazy and all I could think of was how much I wanted to be married. I got married and wanted nothing more than to have a baby. I finally achieved that and not long after having our little bundle of joy I found myself again in the wanting.

Who knew babies would be such work ;). I don’t have the time to just read when ever I want to any more I can barley get myself ready for the day. I hate being cooped up in the house, I want him to be just a little older then we can go places and do things just have a bit more freedom. Now I don’t know about you but the never ending wanting is a thing that can just suck you till your dry.

Then I read Hunted by Meagan Spooner.

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“Though Yeva grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them. 

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance. 

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory–a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast?”

Its a really good retelling of a classic “Beauty and The Beast” with a wonderful twist and message. Now I don’t want to spoil to much but I have to say I love how she used the story to portray that cycle I was in and how detrimental it can be to ones health and sanity.

Meagan did a wonderful job of pulling me into a well known story, yet still have me questioning things. I enjoyed that she touched on that slightly mocked part of beauty and the beast where people say its not love, its called Stockholm syndrome; and made the reason for beauty’s need to return a little more believable.

Needless to say this book was not only a wonderful retelling but an eye opener into my need to be happy where I am and with what I have in the now. -A.B.

Five Stars, Four Stars, Heather B. Moore, Low Language, Low Religion, Low Romance, Low Violence, Nichole Van, Timeless Romance Anthologies

Learn to Fly

For some unlucky reason I keep picking up books that  I’ve read before, not realizing until the second or third page that I’ve already read it. I understand the purpose of re-releasing a book that was part of an anthology, or needs a new cover. Same book, different title or cover can make a difference in sales for an author. As a reader it can be a little disappointing to get all excited about a new book only to find out it’s not a new book.

On the other hand, I LOVE it when I find a novella or short story that I enjoyed has been rewritten as a full length novel. I love seeing new details and getting in deeper with characters I came to love the first time around.

I found that to be true in both Seeing Miss Heartstone by Nichole Van. Which was originally published as “An Invisible Heiress”, in the Spring in Hyde Park (Timeless Regency Collection Book 3).  As well as Let’s Begin Again by Heather B. Moore. Which was originally published as “Every Occasion” in the Valentine’s Day Collection (A Timeless Romance Anthology Book 19).

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Miss Belle Heartstone—heiress and savvy businesswoman—needs a husband. Immediately. As in, yesterday would not have been soon enough. Her mother’s attempts at matchmaking have been disastrous. So Belle decides to solve the problem her way—survey the market and purchase the best groom available. 

Colin Radcliffe, Marquess of Blake—debt-ridden and penniless—needs a large infusion of cash. Desperately. Preferably cash that does not come with a wife attached. It is no surprise, then, when he receives Miss Heartstone’s brazen proposal—her cash, his title, their marriage—that he politely declines. 

But before he leaves her, Blake suggests something truly radical: Maybe before finding a husband, Belle should find herself. 
His simple words send them both on an unexpected journey, spanning continents and years, entwining their lives in ways neither could have foreseen. Can two lonely souls move past societal expectations and forge a unique life together?

I absolutely adored this story when I read it the first time in Spring in Hyde Park. Nichole Van’s characters are always well written and fascinating to read; either in a novella or a novel. Seeing in more depth the transformation Belle takes just made me love her character even more.

This was also true with my favorite detail added to the longer novel. I loved getting to see more of Blake’s response to Belle’s identity. His response was not only true to character, but written so emotionally well that I felt his conflict for myself.

I was pulled in instantly the first time around, but not can’t imagine not having the beautiful details that were added to the full length novel. It’s a new favorite and fully deserving of the recent Whitney Award Finalist announcement.

Let's Begin Again (Pine Valley Book 7) by [Moore, Heather B.]

When Maurie Ledbetter moves back to her hometown to open her dream shop, she calls a local construction crew for help. Former teenage crush Grant Shelton shows up on her front porch, answering the call for the construction job. Seeing Grant again brings back Maurie’s memories of her troubled childhood, and she doesn’t know if spending time around Grant is the best way to move on. But when she discovers Grant has gone through difficulties of his own, Maurie realizes that he might be the key to her own healing.

I was excited about a new Pine Valley novel, and like I said, a little disappointed when I found out I’ve already read it. I remembered liking the story in the timeless anthology so I kept reading and I’m glad I did.

The story of Maurie and Grant was even better fleshed out. Heather Moore did a great job of balancing the drama of their past with the sweetness of their current relationship. The pain of they’d both experienced was written honestly and up front which gave a great depth to the overall story.

Novella’s are awesome to give you a little taste of the story, but nothing beats the story depth and character development you can get from a full length novel. Part of me wants to write the authors of some of my favorite novella’s and say, please do more with this, I love it!

Four Stars, Low Language, Low Religion, Low Romance, Low Violence, Sally Britton

Winter Wonderland

This week we had a snow day in our area! If my memory is correct this hasn’t happened in my area for over 20 years! I loved it, we watched the snow come down all day. We played in it, spent time together, and of course, did some reading.

Sally Britton’s “The Captain and Miss Winter” was the perfect book to read on that rather snowy day.

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The end of the Napoleonic wars comes as a relief to Caspar Graysmark, but before he can settle into the comfortable life of an English lord he has a duty to the people of France. A treasure lies hidden in the heart of the forest, stolen gold that would save the lives of many who lost everything during the war. In his quest, Caspar stumbles across a hidden cottage in the woods, and a different sort of treasure altogether.

Scarlett, living with her sister and grandmother, belongs nowhere. Her father’s mistakes led to their exile from England and their banishment into the forest. The cold winter months have taken their toll on Scarlett’s spirits and her grandmother’s health. The Englishman who arrives at Scarlett’s door, looking more like a bear than a captain of the British army, reminds her of all she lost to the war.

With winter drawing to a close, Caspar must find the missing gold, but his quest to right the wrongs of war has changed. Can Scarlett let him rescue her, too?

The Captain and Miss Winter is based on the story of Snow White and Rose Red, as recorded by the Brothers Grimm. It is a sweet/clean romance novella, and is Book 2 in a series of Regency retellings. The stories can be read in any order

Sally Britton wrote a sweet and engaging story. She combined the difficulty of a Novella, keeping depth of characters and not rushing the romance, with a unique Fairy tale re-telling. Putting the setting in the regency era just after the Napoleonic Wars, but in France, showcased her her talent writing this era. All those skills just highlighted the entertaining story she weaves.

There was one plot point that was mentioned briefly in the middle of the book that I kept thinking was going to have a purpose later on, but it never did. That left me feeling a little unresolved at the end, but other than that, I really enjoyed this re-telling of a lesser known fairy tale.

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

Queen of the Night

My college humanities class was one of my favorite classes. For the simple reason that I “had” to attend all sorts of cultural performances, all in pursuit of my grade. It was wonderful. That semester I saw “The Magic Flute” for the first time and fell in love with the opera.

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“When American heiress Gwen Barton aids an injured gentleman in an opera box in London, she shares a kiss with the stranger that changes her life. More determined than ever to be herself, in spite of the limp she’s sustained since childhood, she will marry for love and not a title. She also resolves to learn the identity of the man she helped—and kissed. Surely he can’t be the irritating Avery Winfield, though. But as circumstances continue to throw Gwen and Avery together, she begins to wonder if there is more to this man than she first thought.

While most of London only knows him as the nephew of a duke, Avery Winfield is actually working for the Secret Service Bureau to ferret out German spies from among the ton. It’s a profession that gives him purpose and a reason to remain a bachelor. But the more he interacts with Gwen Barton, an heiress from America, the more he begins to question his plans and neglected faith. Then he learns Gwen is the young lady from the opera box who helped him. Now his most important mission may have nothing to do with saving Britain from danger and everything to do with risking his heart for the woman he met that night at the opera.”

Stacy Henrie wrote two love interests paired so well, you’re rooting for them every step of the way. The faith aspect of the book was subtle. The inclusion of God was a major part of the story, but it felt natural and necessary to the character development of Gwen and Avery, and never pushy.

The character development of the story really made the novel charming. Stacy Henrie used beautiful metaphors, and great moments of introspection to connect the reader to the characters. It made the story more than just entertainment, but a wonderful journey of adventure, love.