Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Artemis by Andy Weir book review



Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you're not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you've got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she's stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

My Review: 6/10

Andy weir does an amazing job of bringing these places to life with attention to detail- noting things like the way coffee would taste on the moon due to a lower boiling temperature. I love that about his writing.

And I liked the conversation flashbacks between young Jazz and her pen pal on Earth.

And maybe it’s not fair to compare this book to The Martian (which was phenomenal by the way). But I can’t help it. This book felt lackluster to me in general and even worse by comparison.

I never really connected with Jazz and spent the first half of the book being distracted by her characterization; she -sounded- like she was written by a man. I couldn’t help feeling frustrated that now that the narration was from a woman’s perspective (as opposed to Mark Watney in The Martian), there is regular mention of sex (like asking Jazz to test out a non-disposable condom as “payment.” Not kidding). The contrast of narratives was stark to put it mildly.

**SPOILER ALERT** Then the action picked up... but the plot didn’t sit solidly with me. A million slugs is only about $166,000. Which is still a lot of money but certainly not enough to make her set for life or risk getting sent back to Earth. There seemed like quite a few plot holes and the other characters/relationships felt one dimensional.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Holding the Fort (Fort Reno #1) by Regina Jennings book review


Holding the Fort (Fort Reno #1)

When dance hall singer Louisa Bell visits Fort Reno to see her brother, she is mistaken for the governess that the harried Major Daniel Adams is waiting for. Between his rowdy troops and his two daughters, he has more responsibility than he can handle alone. Eager for the opportunity, Louisa sets out to show the widower that she is a perfect fit.

My Review: 8/10
No one can make me laugh out loud like Regina Jennings. I particularly can't wait to read Bradley story because he's hilarious and charming and so real.

But I digress. This was a light, fun read with very unique characters, as always. I think I would've loved it even more if there were deeper character flaws. Maybe something like Hosea's story? I liked that Louisa had her standards and wasn't willing to sacrifice them. But I found myself thinking that I also would have liked to read a story about one who didn't. One who didn't make it out unscathed, made mistakes, had regrets and took the first lifeline that was tossed to her. How that would have changed the story. If anyone could blend humor with the sometimes painfully-honest it would be Ms. Jennings (years later, Love in the Balance is still having an effect on me).

This book is easy to love and I look forward to the others in the series.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Ladies of Ivy Cottage (Tales from Ivy Hill #2) by Julie Klassen book review


The Ladies of Ivy Cottage (Tales from Ivy Hill #2)


Return to Ivy Hill in The Ladies of Ivy Cottage as friendships deepen, romances blossom, and mysteries unfold.

Living with the two Miss Groves in Ivy Cottage, impoverished gentlewoman Rachel Ashford is determined to earn her own livelihood . . . somehow. When the village women encourage her to open a subscription library with the many books she has inherited or acquired through donations, Rachel discovers two mysteries hidden among them. A man who once broke her heart helps her search for clues, but will both find more than they bargained for?

Rachel's friend and hostess, Mercy Grove, has given up thoughts of suitors and fills her days managing her girls' school. So when several men take an interest in Ivy Cottage, she assumes pretty Miss Ashford is the cause. Exactly what--or who--has captured each man's attention? The truth may surprise them all.

Meanwhile, life has improved at the coaching inn and Jane Bell is ready to put grief behind her. Now if only the man she misses would return--but where is he?

As the women of Ivy Hill search for answers about the past and hope for the future, might they find love along the way?

My Review: 6.5/10
I didn't think this book was as strong as the previous one. Right off the bat, several love interests are struck out, which I had thought was a strong point of the first book- that no characters were obvious choices- life doesn't usually work that way; while hindsight may make things seem obvious, in the moment... not so much. Some of the "twists" were not surprising, but rather the character seemed to be blind and/or exceptionally unobservant.

Rachel's tale was the focus and I did like her story in general. The focus on friendship is still there and I liked the way that the women support each other. I thought her struggle with accepting help was well done.

The biggest issue for me was all of the references to Jane Austen. I'm a huge fan as well but it was just too much. There were many lines taken directly out of her novels. Several scenes bore a very strong resemblance to those in her works and some of the characters (Lady Catherine, Mr. Collins,  Elizabeth, and Mr. Darcy etc) seem to make an appearance via some established characters. It was  jarring and took me out of the flow of the story every. single. time. And it wasn't necessary. The best parts of the story were those that felt 100% original (read: not influenced or inspired by Jane Austen's work) and I think the novel would have been a lot stronger on its own.

The storyline that I found most intriguing was Mercy's and that one was not resolved, so I will have to read the last installment and hope that this book was touched by middle book syndrome.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

An Inconvenient Beauty (Hawthorne House #4) by Kristi Ann Hunter book review


An Inconvenient Beauty (Hawthorne House #4)

The Duke of Riverton has chosen his future wife with the same logic he uses to make every decision. However, his perfect bride eludes his suit, while the beautiful Isabella Berkeley seems to be everywhere. When the time comes, will Griffith and Isabella be able to set aside their pride and initial notions to embrace their very own happily-ever-after?

My Review: 8/10

I enjoyed this book. It was not my favorite in the series, but I still found myself frequently chuckling or smiling stupidly as I read. I don't think fans of of this series will be disappointed with the conclusion.


For me, the most important aspect is characters. And there was a lot to love. I liked that the Uncle was not a one dimensional character. He had real problems that caused him to harden and obsess. I liked that Isabella owned up to her responsibility for the mess. I liked the sister-like relationship that she and Freddie shared. I liked the frequent return of characters from the other novels. I loved the way the family worked, like a small, protective army. The idea of those sisters (and sisters-in-law) meeting weekly with their mother for tea and quality time together... it's a small thing, but it points to something larger and something that has always been noticably missing from my life and desperately wanted. Those scenes touched me in a bittersweet way. And I loved the way the family converged in a crisis.

The only thing I didn't really like was the drunken scene between Isabella and Griffith. For some reason, I just didn't buy him being on the roof thatching to begin with (wouldn't he just hire someone?) nor Isabella leaving her cousin unchaperoned in the woods (uh what? People have let their feelings run away with them for a whole lot less. And the last thing her cousin needed was to find herself pregnant with the father killed in battle. She could have chaperoned them discreetly from a significant distant. Poor judgment here). But the drunkenness I just couldn't relate to. I have been drunk before and while I know my experience is not universal, it just seemed overdone. A lack of inhibition, yes. Loose lips, yes. But it just seemed immediate and way too much.

Though I thought the way Griffith kept speaking his thoughts was very funny and well done.

On a similar vein, alcohol has never made me do something I didn't already want to do, nor made me not be able to recognize someone, so I just had a little trouble really buying the opening scene with the boys and the bat guano.

I'm sad that a series whose characters I was so invested in has come to an end. But with each ending comes a new beginning and I am excited for whatever comes next from this author.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer book review

The Chemist

The Chemist

In this gripping page-turner, an ex-agent on the run from her former employers must take one more case to clear her name and save her life.

She used to work for the U.S. government, but very few people ever knew that. An expert in her field, she was one of the darkest secrets of an agency so clandestine it doesn't even have a name. And when they decided she was a liability, they came for her without warning.

Now she rarely stays in the same place or uses the same name for long. They've killed the only other person she trusted, but something she knows still poses a threat. They want her dead, and soon.

When her former handler offers her a way out, she realizes it's her only chance to erase the giant target on her back. But it means taking one last job for her ex-employers. To her horror, the information she acquires only makes her situation more dangerous.

Resolving to meet the threat head-on, she prepares for the toughest fight of her life but finds herself falling for a man who can only complicate her likelihood of survival. As she sees her choices being rapidly whittled down, she must apply her unique talents in ways she never dreamed of.

 My Review: 6/10

This was a page turner from beginning to end. Sometimes because the story was SO good. And other times because the romance was so nauseating you just wanted to get past it as soon as possible.

I love a good love story. And I find it trite and unbelievable when the attraction is constantly denied in order to move the story along until the end when they ultimately come together. So you'd think I'd appreciate that the romance was there right away and as consistently present as the rest of the plot. However, this was unbelieveable in different ways: love at first sight, despite every natural human survival instinct that would urge a person to run, if not be filled with a healthy dose of fear, suspicion, and mistrust.


The story itself was good. It seemed solid, well-researched and intelligent. But Stephenie Meyer clearly has a "type." An intelligent, apologetically dangerous person who is really good (Edward, Ian, "Alex") paired with a pure, innocent person who is in mortal peril by direct association, frequently at the hands of the former themselves (Bella, Wanderer, Daniel). The characters are always perched precariously on the precipice of an extreme life/death scenerio. And there is usually a cobbled-together, makeshift family of unique talents (did anyone else see a strong similarity between Emmett vs. Kevin and Valentine vs. Rosalie? How could you not). This book even had a "pack," some of whose members were featured prominently as main characters.

This story would have been outstanding if a few things were different. If the romantic depth wasn't limited to a gradeschool interaction of making out and giggling. Actually, if there was just less romance in general. And if there was any story where it would have made sense for the characters to have to overcome some serious issues that would, understandably, take the entire length of the novel and not be resolved until the end, this would be the one. The insta-love never made less sense; at least Edward was supernatural and gifted with an ability to literally draw prey in. And if the characters/relationships didn't seem to similar to those in her previous novels. Still good, interesting, but felt recycled.

Oh and the opposite twin thing. It was a dead giveaway to what was going to happen as soon as it was mentioned.

I wonder what it would be like if Ms. Meyer wrote a novel with zero romance. I think she has great potential.

View all my reviews

Friday, June 23, 2017

Wings of the Wind (Out from Egypt #3) by Connilyn Cossette book review

Wings of the Wind (Out from Egypt #3)

 Wings of the Wind (Out from Egypt #3)

Alanah, a Canaanite, is no stranger to fighting and survival. When her family is killed in battle with the Hebrews, she disguises herself and sneaks onto the battlefield to avenge her family. The one thing she never counted on was surviving.
Tobiah, a Hebrew warrior, is shocked to find an unconscious, wounded woman among the Canaanite casualties. Compelled to bring her to a Hebrew healer back at their camp, he is soon confronted with a truth he can’t ignore: the only way to protect this enemy is to marry her.
Unused to being weak and vulnerable, Alanah submits to the marriage—for now. As she comes to know and respect Tobiah and his people, however, she begins to second-guess her plans of escape. But when her past has painfully unanticipated consequences, the tentative peace she’s found with Tobiah, the Hebrews, and Yahweh is shaken to the core. Can Alanah’s fierce heart and strength withstand the ensuing threats to her life and all she’s come to love?

My Review: 7.5/10

 I really enjoyed this book.

The character's and their unfamiliar names were a little difficult to keep track of, and their seemed to be some existing stories that, being new to this series, I couldn't fully appreciate. But this novel stood alone well enough.

Exodus really came to life for me in the pages of this novel. I appreciated how difficult subjects were dealt with (like God's seemingly harsh rebukes, and why the Canaanites were marked for destruction, etc).

The only thing I didn't really like was the connection to Rahab. While the connection was not impossible, I love that piece of the Bible as it is. I love the way Rahab seemed like one grain of sand lost in an ocean of people, who did not know God, whose life would not recommend her as worthy or set apart. But God always knew her and loved her and sent a rescue mission in to save her. It also always gave me a tiny bit of hope in a situation that's hard to understand: the concept that an entire city full of people would be so far gone that they were condemned to destruction, that there would be nothing worth saving in them. That's hard to swallow. But plucking Rahab out in the midst of complete devastation sent a message to me that if anything, if anyone, was salvagable, they would not be overlooked or forgotten. God would deliver them no matter what. I liked that there was no other reason or connection that we know of, that Rahab had no other motivation than faith.

And I think that this story would have been stronger without that tie.

I look forward to reading the previous books in this series, as well as future books by this author.

Monday, June 5, 2017

With You Always (Orphan Train #1) by Jody Hedlund book review

With You Always (Orphan Train, #1)

With You Always (Orphan Train #1)

A Riveting Look at the Orphan Train from Historical Novelist Jody Hedlund

When a financial crisis in 1850s New York leaves three orphaned sisters nearly destitute, the oldest, Elise Neumann, knows she must take action. She's had experience as a seamstress, and the New York Children's Aid Society has established a special service: placing out seamstresses and trade girls. Even though Elise doesn't want to leave her sisters for a job in Illinois, she realizes this may be their last chance.

The son of one of New York City's wealthiest entrepreneurs, Thornton Quincy faces a dilemma. His father is dying, and in order to decide which of his sons will inherit everything, he is requiring them to do two things in six months: build a sustainable town along the Illinois Central Railroad, and get married. Thornton is tired of standing in his twin brother's shadow and is determined to win his father's challenge. He doesn't plan on meeting a feisty young woman on his way west, though.

My Review: 6/10

It's been awhile since my feelings have been so mixed over a story.

Elise was annoying with her superior self-righteous attitude... and yet I liked that. I liked that she wasn't presented as perfect or right.

I liked that Fanny, who was immediately set up as Archnemsis, was not one dimensional and that there was resolution with her. Honestly, I would have been more interested in and moved by her story.

I liked the way faith was woven into the story.

I loved the advice to work among the people and how that changed and improved the plans.

And though I felt like some major threads were left loose and hanging, I felt like it added strength to the story and message of relying on God. And on futher thought, those are probably wrapped up in books 2 and 3.

While there was a lot to interest and enjoy, it seemed like there were equal things to detract from the story.


My biggest issue was with the train ride romance. Though little came of it, I thought Elise was beyond stupid to have dallied with a man at all. Her only remaining family was left in a very unstable situation in a dangerous area and facing starvation and violence. Elise's position with the Children's Aid Society was their only hope at this point, and she's going to risk her reputation (the only thing that got her this job) to wander off on multiple rendez-vous with a man she barely knows?! 99 to one, a strange man luring her off to hidden places would have attempted to seduce her at the very least, if not harm her or force himself upon her. I didn't find these instances charming or romantic, but dangerously naive fantasies.

I was annoyed by the way they both tried to deny their attraction and pass it off as friendship. In what world would anyone sincerely interpret things that way?

I didn't think Elise's sacrificial choice at the end was realistic or relatable. I think any normal woman would have done the opposite- would have desperately wanted to marry the super wealthy "land developer" which would provide immediate rescue to the people she loves most in the world. The sacrifice to potentially not get to work as a cook or live where she wanted would have seemed a better trade off for safety and provision for her family, not to mention being with the man she loved.

I wish Reinhold had been left out of the story entirely. I felt bad for him being used and thought his conceding defeat and wishing them the best was unnatural. I have never known anyone who, in the midst of rejection, loss, jealousy, hurt and broken plans, calmly states that they know the couple was right for each other, but just didn't want to face it, and then goes on to help them be together. That kind of acceptance usually happens after some time to process and move on.

Was I the only one who felt bad for Rosalind? This girl was all but engaged, planning their December wedding while her beau is playing with fire, constantly putting himself in the path of temptation, pursuing, flirting, and kissing another woman. She was betrayed and publicly humiliated. The only good thing I can say about the situation was that thankfully this girl was not portrayed as having any major character defects, as if that would justify their actions.

While I am invested enough in the supporting character to want to read the following books and get the full resolution, I would be careful who I recommend this book to- adults who are not likely to mistake wreckless liasons and infedility as romance, but will appreciate other aspects of the story.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Heart on the Line (Ladies of Harper’s Station #2) by Karen Witemeyer book review


Heart on the Line (Ladies of Harper’s Station #2)

Grace Mallory is tired of running, of hiding. But when an old friend sends an after-hours telegraph transmission warning Grace that the man who has hunted her for nearly a year has discovered her location, she fears she has no choice. She can't let the villain she believes responsible for her father's death release his wrath in Harper's Station, the town that has sheltered her and blessed her with the dearest friends she's ever known.

Amos Bledsoe prefers bicycles to horses and private conversations over the telegraph wire to social gatherings with young ladies who see him as nothing more than an oddity. His telegraph companion, the mysterious Miss G, listens eagerly to his ramblings every night and delights him with tales all her own. For months, their friendship--dare he believe, courtship?--has fed his hope that he has finally found the woman God intended for him. Yet when he takes the next step to meet her in person, he discovers her life is in peril, and Amos must decide if he can shed the cocoon of his quiet nature to become the hero Grace requires.

My Review: 5/10

I found this to be a fairy enjoyable, light read, which was appreciated to break up some of the heavier stuff I was reading.

I liked that Amos' character was the not the typical hero in build or demeanor, that he was insecure about it and that Grace acknowledged these things and wasn't instantly set on him (though it did happen pretty quickly). Their method of communicating was unique and very sweet.

I liked Helen's side story and thought her match was fitting. However, I didn't find the insta-love/protection/physicality etc at all believable for a woman of her background.

The lower rating has more to do with the suspension of belief I had to employ to be able to get into the story.


For me, it was simple. Grace had two options. Take the books directly to Whitmore or go into hiding.  I didn't really understand why she seemed to choose the latter option, since she would never be safe until the target (documents) was removed from her back. Who wants to live like that? But she fled, ending up in a females colony.

The story picks up with her a few months later where she has done absolutely nothing to hide her identity: she has altered her appearance in no way, has not changed her name or even her occupation. She made it incredibly easy to trace her. But if that weren't enough, she left her location with a friend before she left, giving explicit instructions to give up her whereabouts if anyone was threatened. What?! Your last remaining family member was gunned down in cold blood. You don't give anyone else information that would PUT them in danger. And why would you need to? It's not like you'll be keeping penpals while on the run. The whole premise made no sense to me.

Then she starts a friendship/romance with a man she's never seen over the telegram wire. Wreckless. Dangerous.

Then when the Pinkerton agent shows up in town, everyone accepts him and walks on eggshells around him. Amos' arrival was suspicious and required lockup until his story and intent could be verified and voted on. Dunbar shows up the next day or so and the reaction is completely different. Despite the fact that he could be a crooked agent. What? Lock him up until you can verify his identity AND intent, just like Amos! After a day or two, they could have definitely found cause for suspicion to keep him locked up. And Grace could have fled again. But then I guess we wouldn't have a story.

And why didn't Helen question Lee as soon as he was lucid? Full name (nicknames from friends don't count)? Occupation? Who sent you? Who shot you? We have a murderer on his way to town, stop flirting and get answers! 

For me, the tenor of the story that should have been present under the circumstances (deep loss and grief, fear, and danger) did not fit at all with the casual, lighthearted actions (cycling lessons, strolling about town with a beau, etc).

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Lady of the Lakes: The True Love Story of Sir Walter Scott (Historical Proper Romance) by Josi S. Kilpack book review


The Lady of the Lakes: The True Love Story of Sir Walter Scott (Historical Proper Romance)

One is his first love.
The other is his best love.
Which will be Walter’s true love?

Walter Scott has three passions: Scotland, poetry, and Mina Stuart. Though she is young and they are from different stations in society, Walter is certain their love is meant to be. For years, he has courted her through love letters. She is the sunshine of his soul.

Though Mina shares Walter’s love of literature and romantic temperament, it’s hard for her to know if she truly loves him or if she has only been dazzled by his flattery. When she meets the handsome and charming William Forbes, her heart is challenged. Who will she choose?

But as every poet knows, “the course of true love never did run smooth,” and on a windy morning in the lake country, Walter meets Charlotte.

At twenty-six, Charlotte Carpenter believes she will never find love. After all, she is a Catholic-born Frenchwoman living in London with a family history shadowed by scandal. Though quiet, practical, and determined to live a life of independence, her heart longs for someone to love her and a place to call home.

Passion and promises collide as Walter, Mina, and Charlotte must each decide the course for their futures. What are they each willing to risk to find love and be loved in return?

My Review: 10/10

By this point, I am very familiar with Ms. Kilpack's work. Yet every time I amazed by just how good her stories are. And I have no idea how she turns them out so quickly and yet the quality never drops.

This was a very unconventional love story, which made it all the sweeter.

*SPOILERS* I appreciated the characterization and that, despite Walter's feelings, Mina was not made out to be a monster- just a young girl who hadn't known her own heart yet. I thought her struggles were very realistic and relatable. And I loved Charlotte. I loved the parallel stories. I loved how they were imperfect.

The only thing I had any issue with was the broom closet scene. I just thought there was no way that would happen. Despite Mrs. Nicholson's advice, I don't think she would condone Walter pulling Charlotte into a dark broom closet for a makeout session during intermission. And then to tap on the door and say "You've got an hour." WHAT?!

That small bit aside, this book was phenomenal. And I lOVED all the historical notes at the end. Highly recommend.

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Fine Gentleman (The Jonquil Brothers #4) by Sarah M. Eden book review


A Fine Gentleman (The Jonquil Brothers #4)

London barrister Jason Jonquil has spent his entire life working to establish his identity as a gentleman, a man of refinement like his father and brothers. But when fiery Spanish beauty Mariposa Thornton walks into his office, he finds himself losing his grasp on his dignified character. The woman is infuriating, pushing him to the limit of his legendary patience. However, her case seems simple enough—a small matter of inheritance. Or so he believes.

Once a well-born lady, Mariposa fought to survive the brutalities of Napoleon’s war on Spain. She braved horrific perils and undertook dangerous missions on behalf of those fighting against the invading French army. But her greatest battle still lies ahead: after being separated from her family, Mariposa sets in motion a plan to reunite with her loved ones in England. To avoid drawing the attention of the French, Mariposa dons a carefully crafted persona to conceal her true purpose. As Jason and Mariposa are drawn together by the case, they come to know the people beneath the masks they both wear.

When the truth of Mariposa’s quest is revealed, the couple is pulled into a mystery that will test the limits of their courage—and expose the true desire of their hearts.

My Review: 7/10
Mariposa's character had me laughing out loud which is something I always appreciate. The plot was predictable, but I'm a sucker for stories of war torn families being reunited, so I cannot help but be affected. The dialogue was frequently too sickly sweet for my taste, but this was not unexpected as I have read many books by this author. If that's your style or it doesn't interfere with your enjoyment of a story, I would recommend this book to you. And though I felt that the story dragged on a bit at times, I appreciated the ending, Philip's advice, Mari's new beginning, and being visited by loved characters from other novels. Very enjoyable read.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham book review

Someday, Someday, Maybe Someday, Someday, Maybe

A charming and laugh-out-loud novel by Lauren Graham, beloved star of Parenthood and Gilmore Girls, about an aspiring actress trying to make it in mid-nineties New York City.

Franny Banks is a struggling actress in New York City, with just six months left of the three-year deadline she gave herself to succeed. But so far, all she has to show for her efforts is a single line in an ad for ugly Christmas sweaters and a degrading waitressing job. She lives in Brooklyn with two roommates - Jane, her best friend from college, and Dan, a sci-fi writer, who is very definitely not boyfriend material - and is struggling with her feelings for a suspiciously charming guy in her acting class, all while trying to find a hair-product cocktail that actually works.

Meanwhile, she dreams of doing "important" work, but only ever seems to get auditions for dishwashing liquid and peanut butter commercials. It's hard to tell if she'll run out of time or money first, but either way, failure would mean facing the fact that she has absolutely no skills to make it in the real world. Her father wants her to come home and teach, her agent won't call her back, and her classmate Penelope, who seems supportive, might just turn out to be her toughest competition yet.

Someday, Someday, Maybe is a funny and charming debut about finding yourself, finding love, and, most difficult of all, finding an acting job.

My Review: 7.5/10

I'm not sure what I was expecting with this book. Something a little wistful and light. Or maybe I had no expectations at all. And I may not have read it if Lauren Graham herself had not narrated it.

I'm not sure I've ever read more realistic or relatable dialogue. Franny is not stupid or naive or blind. She makes the choices and mistakes that she makes because of a willful desire to be something that fits in with the things, the life, that she wants for herself. She wants to be someone who dates this guy or works for that agency, who takes these roles and fits in this particular lifestyle, as if getting what she wants will get her there, ultimately making her happy. This seems, to me, human nature (and error) at it's finest. Chasing the things we think we want while determinedly dismissing or refusing the things we need, the things that, if we really understood ourselves, we'd want, the things we'd thrive with.

And despite Franny's lessons and growth on her journey, the book isn't heavy. There was intelligent humor and an easy way about the narration that draws you in, as if you're hearing some personal anecdotes from a close friend. Becoming invested in Franny is effortless.

I loved the circular plot, the way things that ultimately propelled her forward happened early on, rather than in her present. It was refreshing.

It was such an enjoyable read. I really hope Lauren Graham continues writing stories.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Mark of the King by Jocelyn Green book review


The Mark of the King

Sweeping Historical Fiction Set at the Edge of the Continent
After being imprisoned and branded for the death of her client, twenty-five-year-old midwife Julianne Chevalier trades her life sentence for exile to the fledgling 1720s French colony of Louisiana, where she hopes to be reunited with her brother, serving there as a soldier. To make the journey, though, women must be married, and Julianne is forced to wed a fellow convict.
When they arrive in New Orleans, there is no news of Benjamin, Julianne's brother, and searching for answers proves dangerous. What is behind the mystery, and does military officer Marc-Paul Girard know more than he is letting on?
With her dreams of a new life shattered, Julianne must find her way in this dangerous, rugged land, despite never being able to escape the king's mark on her shoulder that brands her a criminal beyond redemption.

My Review: 10/10
This book was phenomenal. I had never heard of Ms. Jocelyn Green before now, so I thought she was a new author. I have never been so glad to be mistaken! I cannot wait to get my hands on her other works. But first, The Mark of the King:

This novel was a perfect blend of history, faith in action, spiritual growth, realistic relationships (friends, family, romance), with a little mystery and suspense thrown in. The characters had so much depth and were challenged to be more than their circumstances or emotions. It was inspiring. It was very interesting to see how people changed based on their choices. It made me think about how we take so much for granted- even our character. What don't know what we're capable of unless we've dealt with some of these issues- famine, war, loss, etc. It gave me a greater appreciation for shades of gray, understanding how people can start down dark paths, and grew my compassion.

Ms. Green did not gloss over the hard stuff, painting everything rosy and easy to put to rights like so many do. It was downright painful to read at times and there was more than one scene that had me so affected that I had to wait a while before being able to continue. While those are not the kind of things that usually draw me to a book, it really is a testimony to how realistic the characters are and how emotionally invested you become in their lives. It's good to be so touched sometimes. Necessary even.

The story changes perspective a lot and I was impressed with how convincing each point of view was; whether it was our protagonist (25 year old female), a native child, or a man, it was believably written and so smoothly done that it didn't halt the story at all.

I loved the rich historical details. It simultaneously gave me a glimpse into history in a way I've never experienced before, and also made me aware of how little I can imagine what colonizing our country was like.

The themes of forgiveness, loving your enemy, and prayer was wonderful. They were woven into the story naturally and simply, so that the messages were powerful and convicting, and didn't seem showy, preachy or out of place.

I loved that this was from a French perspective, which is rare among the historical fiction I read. I wish I could go into particulars, but so much happens in this story, that saying anything specific would probably be a spoiler. I can't recommend this book enough.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Beautiful Pretender (A Medieval Fairy Tale #2) by Melanie Dickerson book review


The Beautiful Pretender (A Medieval Fairy Tale #2)

What happens when a margrave realizes he’s fallen in love with a servant?

The Margrave of Thornbeck has to find a bride, fast. He invites ten noble-born ladies from around the country to be his guests at Thornbeck Castle for two weeks, a time to test these ladies and reveal their true character.

Avelina is only responsible for two things: making sure her deception goes undetected and avoiding being selected as the margrave’s bride. Since the latter seems unlikely, she concentrates on not getting caught. No one must know she is merely a maidservant, sent by the Earl of Plimmwald to stand in for his daughter, Dorothea.

Despite Avelina’s best attempts at diverting attention from herself, the margrave has taken notice. And try as she might, she can’t deny her own growing feelings. But something else is afoot in the castle. Something sinister that could have far worse—far deadlier—consequences. Will Avelina be able to stop the evil plot? And at what cost?

My Review: 5/10

*Please forgive any misspelling of character names; I listened to the audiobook version and could find NO mention of secondary characters anywhere on the internet.*

This story started with an interesting premise: Lady's maid must impersonate her mistress at a Margrave's ball, being friendly enough to secure an alliance with the Margrave but not so friendly as to win his hand. Fail at the first mission and the Margrave (rumored to be deadly violent) will likely kill her. Fail at the second mission and her people and their lands will be subjected to a foreign threat. Fail at the last mission and her secret will be exposed and both she AND her people will likely be destroyed. Sounds like a great story, right? In theory.

It started out okay, though Avelina did not act like a servant- stealing from her Lady's plate the moment her back was turned. Irma was even less believable as Avelina's lady's maid. She had an incredibly loose and sharp tongue considering that she was facing equal punishment if they were discovered.

Things were fine until Avelina's intelligence started slipping in order to further the suspense. All of a sudden she is in denial, to the point of delusion, regarding the Margrave's interest and has no idea how to rebuff his attention. And despite Fronica being set up as her arch-nemesis/daughter of evil, Avelina complacently walks into her traps.

The romance lacked any depth (constant fixation on looks/attraction and damsel-in-distress/hero worship) and the dialogue was so saccharine that I was embarassed when there was a chance anyone would overhear- particularly my husband.

The story just dragged on and on, growing more far-fetched and melodramatic, with the characters losing dimension, as the pages turned:

The whole plot of the story centered around the Earl of Plimmwald needing the Margrave's support to fend off Geitbart's invasion. Yet the Margrave is not able to fend off an attack from Geitbart himself. He has no spies and limited forces so that he ends up imprisoned in his own dungeon. Sure.

The Margrave is quickly put off by Fronica's behavior, has no interest in her and suspects her of evil deeds. Yet he never sends her home. Nope, he just continues to put up with her.

Avelina is so shocked by Fronica's villainous confession that she leans back against the railing, which breaks, almost sending her plummeting to her death. When she is saved she has conveniently forgotten Fronica's confession/plans and makes no mention her of likely role in the near death experience.

In the end, the Margrave realizes he hasn't been using his cane and must not need it anymore. Either their loved conquered all, including physical limitations, or he never thought to try walking without his cane before.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen book review


Water for Elephants

Orphaned, penniless, Jacob Jankowski jumps a freight train in the dark, and in that instant, transforms his future.

By morning, he's landed a job with the Flying Squadron of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. By nightfall, he's in love.

In an America made colourless by prohibition and the Depression, the circus is a refuge of sequins and sensuality. But behind the glamour lies a darker world, where both animals and men are dispensable. Where falling in love is the most dangerous act of all...

My Review: 5/10

The story itself was excellent and the characters fiercely human. The blurbs describe the book as gritty, sensual and romantic. I couldn't disagree more. That's like saying that a man who crudely propositions a woman is flirting. The sexual content was rated X for sure. The author almost seems to fixate on incidents and revel in them. They did absolutely nothing to further or deepen the storyline and, because events happened so many times throughout the novel, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this book to anyone.

I was particularly disturbed by the threeway/rape scene. Because that's what it was. He was so drunk he was not able to consent. He had no control over any part of his body. And he passed out not knowing what had been done or if he was still a virgin. Putting a fleeting thought in his mind that he was "definitely interested" did not make it okay and perpetuates rape culture. I can only imagine how people would have reacted if the genders were reversed: if the author had been a man and this scene had been about a woman with two men who help themselves because "they love them at this age." Disgusting.

This was one of those rare times when the movie is better than the book. The movie follows the plot of the novel very closely. Even some of the raunchier aspects are present, as they relate to the story, but not in enough detail to distract from the plot or make the audience uncomfortable.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Vicar's Daughter by Josi S. Kilpack book review


The Vicar's Daughter 

Cassie, the youngest of six daughters in the Wilton family, is bold, bright, and ready to enter society. There's only one problem: her older sister Lenora, whose extreme shyness prevents her from attending many social events. Lenora is now entering her third season, and since their father has decreed that only one Wilton girl can be out at a time, Cassie has no choice except to wait her turn.

Evan Glenside, a soft-spoken, East London clerk, has just been named his great-uncle's heir and, though he is eager to learn all that will be required of him, he struggles to feel accepted in a new town and in his new position.

A chance meeting between Evan and Lenora promises to change everything, but when Lenora proves too shy to pursue the relationship, Cassie begins to write Mr. Glenside letters in the name of her sister. Her good intentions lead to disaster when Cassie realizes she is falling in love with Evan. But then Evan begins to court Lenora, thinking she is the author of the letters.

As secrets are revealed, the hearts of Cassie, Evan, and Lenora are tested. Will the final letter sent by the vicar's daughter be able to reunite the sisters as well as unite Evan with his true love?

My Review: 10/10
True to form, Ms. Kilpack's latest novel was phenomenal and I could not put it down.

The writing was so good, the characters so vibrant, that I felt everything, every good and bad thing, all the way to my toes. Despite being confident of how it would end, I felt all the suspense, all the pain of human flaws, the embarassment, the guilt, the regret, the hope, and the sacrifice.

If you want to feel the full range of human emotion, I highly recommend this book. If you want to see the full beauty of God at work, knitting something beautiful from ashes, I recommend it even more. From relating to the best and worst of people, to getting to witness forgiveness and restoration, I cannot say enough good things about this book.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Midwife's Dilemma (At Home in Trinity #3) by Delia Parr book review


The Midwife's Dilemma (At Home in Trinity #3)

Midwife Martha Cade has decided. When he returns in February, she is going to marry Mayor Thomas Dillon. That is the only decision in life in which she feels confident these days. Everything else around her feels like it's changing too fast, from her daughter's obvious affection for the town's young doctor to Martha realizing she's ready to pass on her role as midwife to someone younger. Even her beloved town of Trinity is changing.

The 1830s Pennsylvania town, having mushroomed in size and population, is becoming an important agricultural and economic center for the region, and soon a canal will connect it even more to the outside world.

It is a season that will set the course for the rest of her life. Martha will need every ounce of confidence, courage, and faith she possesses to overcome the obstacles that will make her life far more challenging and difficult than she can dare to imagine.

My Review: 6/10

I struggled with this book. The first aspect was the rewrite- taking this story from two books and changing it into a trilogy. Not much changed in the beginning. However, one key storyline was completely reworked. Initially it was bittersweet. I spent much of this story wondering if it was still going to play out the way it originally did. It did not and keeping these couple of characters around seemed to serve almost no purpose, other than to maybe accentuate the feel of community and close knit family Martha had built. Maybe it wouldn't have bothered me if I didn't know what I was missing.

The story itself felt like one being strung along. The things I had loved about the first two books ( the spiritual journey) and Martha's character (her strength and shortcomings, her ability to be wrong and change ) fell short for me. Martha (and Thomas) seemed to be overcomplicating things. Why exactly did she NEED to have a midwife replace her? There was a doctor there now and her daughter was publishing their specialty knowledge. She was complaining that she didn't want to be a midwife anymore and that she was losing more and more work to the doctor... so her need for a replacement just didn't make any sense to me.

Additionally, while I agreed with Martha that Thomas was pressuring her too much and damaged trust by changing his mind, I thought she was wrong to continue delaying and hiding their relationship. She set a pretty bad example for her daughter there and probably added to Thomas' doubt and insecurities. And I understand that she didn't want to start their relationship off with such a challenge, but that's life. And that's marriage. You weather the storms together. You compromise. You sacrifice. Your spouse should be second only to God, not fall somewhere behind your career, your kids, and your family legacy. She wasn't willing to commit unless everything else fell perfectly into place and she got everything she wanted. That's not commitment.

Jane's story was not a surprise. And felt way too easy. And I had no idea why Martha never shared the information with Thomas.

I did like the way Martha and Jane prayed together and leaned on God. But that was the only spiritual aspect that really touched me. For the most part, this book was all too realistic; an accurate portrayal of how misguided we can be keeping ourselves bone weary with busyness, accomplishing little of actual value and often missing the blessings that God has given us: relationships.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

An Uncommon Courtship (Hawthorne House #3) by Kristi Ann Hunter book review


An Uncommon Courtship (Hawthorne House #3)

When her mother's ill-conceived marriage trap goes awry, Lady Adelaide Bell unwittingly finds herself bound to a stranger who ignores her. Lord Trent Hawthorne, who had grand plans to marry for love, is even less pleased with the match. Can they set aside their first impressions before any chance of love is lost?
My Review: 9 stars

Ms. Hunter has quickly become one of my favorite authors and I have been super excited and anxiously awaiting this book.

I hadn't reread the other books to set myself up for this newest one, so I can say that it stands alone well enough, but would probably feel more complete with having recently read the previous stories.

The pacing of the story fluctuates. It immediately pulled me in and there were times I could not put it down, but then there seemed to lengthy lulls, just chunks of the story where pretty much nothing happened.

I loved that the story didn't revolve around the "wedding night" but rather a quest to understand what love actually is (with a sound Biblical foundation) and a determination to live it out.

Though I related more naturally with the outspoken Hawthorne lades, I found Adelaide's disposition sweet and refreshing. I certainly felt for her over her past neglect, her craving to have proper relationships with her mother and sister, a desire for a close knit family, and ultimately feeling pulled in opposite directions. I understood why she felt confused about how God wanted her to handle her relationships. I found Adelaide's quirks charming and appreciated Trent's failings and honest feelings, even when they weren't fair.

There were a couple of minor things that bothered me- it seemed like some minor issues were resolved, and then resurfaced just to induce insecurity and keep the story suspenseful. like Adelaide worrying that Trent had a previous relationship after he explicitely told her that he had never had the slightest involvement with anyone. Thankfully, these  instances were few and they were forgotten quickly enough, but I felt the story would have been a lot stronger if there hadn't been needless worries heaped on top to try to make things worse.

On the whole, the characters are so warm and witty, and their dreams so genuine and relatable that you just want to be part of this (growing) tight knit family unit, where you're safe, protected, accepted, and loved. Thankfully, living vicariously through their stories allows you to be. I can't wait for the next one!

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill (Tales from Ivy Hill #1) by Julie Klassen book review


The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill (Tales from Ivy Hill #1)

First Series from Bestselling Author Julie Klassen!

On a rise overlooking the Wiltshire countryside stands the village of Ivy Hill. Its coaching inn, The Bell, is its lifeblood--along with the coach lines that stop there daily, bringing news, mail, travelers, and much-needed trade.

Jane Bell lives on the edge of the inn property. She had been a genteel lady until she married the charming innkeeper who promised she would never have to work in his family's inn. But when he dies under mysterious circumstances, Jane finds herself The Bell's owner, and worse, she has three months to pay a large loan or lose the place.

Feeling reluctant and ill-equipped, Jane is tempted to abandon her husband's legacy and return to her former life of ease. However, she soon realizes there is more at stake than her comfort. But who can she trust to help her? Her resentful mother-in-law? Her husband's brother, who wanted the inn for himself? Or the handsome newcomer with secret plans of his own . . . ?

With pressure mounting from the bank, Jane struggles to win over naysayers and turn the place around. Can Jane bring new life to the inn, and to her heart as well?

My Review: 8.5/10 

I thought this book was set up in a way to allow for sequels. And lo and behold, I look it up on Goodreads and it's right there in the title: #1.

I have mixed feelings about that. I found it refreshing that there were a lot of things left open ended. Now it just kind of feels like an exceptionally long story. Although I did really enjoy the story, so I guess I am happy over all.

I could not really relate to Jane. She is every bit the gently bred woman, and her mild temper and meek nature had me gritting my teeth for the first half of the book; I hate to see characters struggling privately. I always want to grab them by the shoulders, shake them, and shout, Speak up! Maybe then this can be solved and you won't be suffering! Or at the very least, you won't be suffering alone!

But despite that, I still liked her. And I liked that this story followed the lives of several women, intertwining in daily life or past remembrances.

This was one of those rare books (particularly for this genre) whose primary plotline was not a romance, but more of sisterhood. Despite that, several romantic interests were set up for multiple characters, and I really liked that there were no obvious choices- very unique men with different things to offer and a future that could take shape with any of them.

There were a number of times when connections or opportunities seemed too easy, just too lucky. I could have found it more believable if prayer had been the link, if God had been credited. The story and themes (forgiveness, healing, rising to your circumstances, a change of heart, courage, new beginnings, etc) could have resonated a lot deeper if God had been reflected in them.

But on the whole, I really enjoyed this book. If this review seems a bit scattered, it's because I've been sleep deprived all week thanks to not being able to put this book down.