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.
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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.

 

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.

High Violence, Low Language, Low Religion, Moderate Romance, Two Stars

A Whole New World

I confess I love getting into new worlds, being sucked into a fantasy so removed that I can just escape. However, if the world created by the author doesn’t have some common threads with reality it can be too hard to see yourself there and connect with the characters.

The world Somaiya Daud creates in Mirage is fascinating, but the words were so far removed from reality that I had a hard time remembering who was who and where was what.

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“In a world dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated home.

But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.

As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty―and her time with the princess’ fiancé, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection…because one wrong move could lead to her death.”

The timeline was a little confusing as well. I know there is such thing as too much detail of the past, but this almost had too little. I often was unsure if things they were mentioning were recent events or happened decades ago.

I’m not always turned off by violence, but this was a bit much, right from the get go. Though the overall story was interesting and in the genre of books that I like, the details were distracting enough to pull me out of the story again and again.

I’m a bit of a sucker for a well written make out session and the author did a wonderful job with the romance. The author described their emotions and interactions to create several swoon worthy scenes, but I never found myself completely immersed in the world she created. –A.B.