Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top Ten Books I Read in 2013

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. There is a new subject each week and this week's topic is "Top Ten Books I Read in 2013".

I am still working on my list of top books for the year but here are some of my favorites in no particular order:

On Sal Mal Lane by Ru Freeman

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

I will be taking a break from blogging for the rest of the week to enjoy spending time with my family at Christmas. 

I hope you have a wonderful and blessed Christmas season!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (166)

It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

I only read one book this past week and now that I am home with family for the holidays I am not sure how much reading I will get to this coming week. 

I went to see The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug earlier this week and I thought it was fantastic even if it didn't live up to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I've also been watching lots of holiday movies with my parents on Netflix and I'm hoping I'll finally get to see Catching Fire. Yesterday was our family Christmas and on Christmas Day we will be going to my sister's place to celebrate with her and my brother-in-law and his family.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Books reviewed:

Sleigh Bells in the Snow by Sarah Morgan
The Runaway Wife by Rowan Coleman

Books read:

Diamonds and Deceit by Leila Rasheed

I thought this book was entertaining though it wasn't quite as good as the first book in some ways. I really like the character of Rose and enjoyed her story line in this book.

Currently reading:

Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill

This book requires some suspension of disbelief but it is fun, like a mix of The Parent Trap and The Cutting Edge because a figure skater learns hockey and a hockey player learns to figure skate...

What I plan to read next:

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Friday, December 20, 2013

Review: The Runaway Wife

The Runaway Wife
By Rowan Coleman
Published: November 12, 2013

My review:

Rose has known more than her share of heartache. When she was a young girl her parents divorced and her father left them. Even before he left, he was so absorbed in his work that he often forgot she was there. After he leaves, her mother falls into a deep depression, eventually committing suicide. Then at the tender age of seventeen, Rose meets and falls in love with Richard, a man who is several years her senior but he swoops in like her knight in shining armor. Soon however she realizes that she is trapped in a controlling marriage and when one night Richard takes things too far, she knows she has to take their young daughter and get out.

Rose makes her way to Millthwaite, a small town where Richard would never think to look for her. It is the location depicted in a postcard sent to her years ago by a stranger who showed her kindness one day. She has never been able to forget him and she hopes that if she finds him she will know what to do next. 

At the beginning of the book, Rose is a victim and she doesn't appear to have much sense aside from getting herself and her daughter out of a scary situation. She seems to live in a fairy tale world where she waits to be rescued. If not for her young daughter Maddie who needs her to be strong I think Rose would have fallen apart. Thankfully, Rose grows stronger through the help of friends and most importantly by working through the damage she experienced both through Richard and through her dad's abandonment. It was really nice to see Rose start to stand up for herself towards the end of the book.

I really liked the secondary characters in this book. From Jenny the nosy innkeeper and her flirty son Ted to Frasier the kind and handsome art agent and Shona, Rose's loud-mouthed and big-hearted best friend, the secondary characters all help Rose on her journey to independence.  I loved the village setting and the way that Rose becomes a part of the community. Jenny may have grudgingly helped Rose in the beginning but she does have a soft heart buried deep down. Her son is charming if a little too much and he helps Rose to heal just by being nice and flirting with her. Frasier sometimes annoyed me by his confusing behavior towards Rose but he was a decent guy. Shona is one of my favorite characters and I wished we'd seen more of her towards the end of the story because she sort of disappears from the narrative. I loved the scenes when she was purposely irritating Jenny. So funny!

Rose's daughter Maddy is initially difficult to like but I grew to understand her behavior and to like her a little bit more. I also appreciated Rose's grouchy father and I loved the second chance they had to develop a relationship and family. I liked the descriptions of the art and how his art brought them all together.

What I liked most of all about this novel is that it is not just a story about a woman escaping an abusive relationship. It is about all kinds of relationships and the way that holding on to baggage from the past can damage your present life. Rose has to let go of the pain she has from her childhood and her marriage in order to move on and really live life fully. I really liked being on that journey with her and meeting all the kindhearted and quirky people along the way. I'd suggest this book to fans of Liane Moriarty and women's fiction in general.

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of Edelweiss and the publisher

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Review: Christmas in Snowflake Canyon

Christmas in Snowflake Canyon
By RaeAnne Thayne
Published: October 29, 2013

Holiday gifts don't always come in expected packages... especially in the town of Hope's Crossing. 

No one has ever felt sorry for Genevieve Beaumont. After all, she has everything money can buy. That is, until she discovers her fiancé has been two-timing her and she's left with two choices: marry the philanderer to please her controlling father or be disinherited and find a means to support herself. 

Genevieve's salvation appears in the most unlikely of prospects: Dylan Caine, a sexy, wounded war vet whose life is as messy as hers. Dylan's struggling to adjust after his time in Afghanistan, and the last thing he needs is a spoiled socialite learning about the real world for the first time. True, she may have unexpected depths and beauty to match. But he knows he could never be the man she needs…and she knows he could never be the man she thinks she wants. So why are they each hoping that a Christmas miracle willl prove them both wrong?

My review:

Christmas in Snowflake Canyon is the sixth book in the Hope's Crossing series. While the books can be read out of order, I suggest reading at least Willowleaf Lane before tackling this one since it introduces Dylan. 

Genevieve is a character whose family is not exactly popular with the citizens of Hope's Crossing. Her family has always flaunted their wealth and status around town and Genevieve became a bridezilla in the earlier books. In this book however, we get to see a different and more palatable side of her. I like how she recognizes her past mistakes and wants to change even though the town is still so against her. It is hard to change people's minds about you once you get a negative reputation.

Dylan is portrayed as really angry in Willowleaf Lane which is understandable given what he has gone through. I was a little worried about his being the love interest in this book but I liked him and the way his character grows. In the previous book Dylan had no desire to help with the town's new rehabilitation program for wounded veterans but here he is forced to because of community service. He gradually realizes that the program actually can help and through his own involvement he heals as well. 

The relationship between Dylan and Genevieve is sweet. I love how Dylan defends Genevieve and how she influences him to be a better person. I enjoyed seeing the couples from previous titles in the series as well. The setting and recurring characters are part of the charm of these books. Overall I thought this was a pleasant and heartwarming holiday romance. 

Note: I received an e-ARC courtesy of Netgalley and the publisher

Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: Sleigh Bells in the Snow

Sleigh Bells in the Snow
By Sarah Morgan
Published: October 29, 2013

Once upon a time, Christmas was Kayla Green's favorite time of year. Now all the workaholic wants for Christmas is for it to be over—as fast as possible! So when duty calls her to snowy Vermont to close a deal with a new client, Kayla is grateful for an excuse to avoid the holidays for another year. 

Jackson O'Neil left a thriving business behind to return home and salvage his family's resort—it's in his blood, and he can't let it fail. Now that he's got marketing whiz Kayla Green working with him to put Snow Crystal on the map, success is on the horizon. The fact they strike enough sparks off each other to power all the Christmas lights in Vermont is just an added bonus. 

Kayla might be an expert at her job, but she's out of her depth with Jackson—he makes her crave the happy-ever-after she once dreamed of, and it's terrifying. As the snowflakes continue to swirl, will the woman who doesn't believe in the magic of Christmas finally fall under its spell?

My review:

Sleigh Bells in the Snow is the first book in a series featuring the O'Neil brothers. Jackson O'Neil is desperate to save his family's business and to prove himself to his grandfather. He hires Kayla's PR firm to help and brings her to Snow Crystal to convince his family that things need to change if Snow Crystal is to survive. Kayla is eager to accept Jackson's invitation to spend Christmas at Snow Crystal because it means she can concentrate on work and avoid Christmas in her isolated cabin. Unfortunately for Kayla, Jackson means to involve her in the various Christmas and snow related activities on the resort to help her get a feel for the business. She also can't help her attraction to the man or her reaction to his loud and boisterous family. 

As this is a Christmas story it is a little saccharine sweet at times but the characters are genuine and the romance is ultimately satisfying. Those who like some humor and a little steaminess in their romance novels will not be disappointed either. Both Kayla and Jackson have family issues to deal with on their path to happiness and while their relationship develops quickly because of the time constraints it still felt believable. The secondary characters also added to the charm of the story.

Fans of contemporary romance authors like Kristan Higgins and Jill Shalvis should add this book to their TBR list this holiday season. I will definitely be checking out the rest of the series when it is published.

Note: I received an e-ARC for review purposes courtesy of Netgalley and the publisher

Sunday, December 15, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (165)

It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

I have to admit that although it is December and winter hasn't technically started, I am already sick of it! We haven't got as much snow as other parts of the country but I still hate it. If I could live in a place with spring, summer, and fall but no winter then I would be happy. Right now it feels like I live in Narnia :) 

On the bright side it is Christmas and I have a lot to be grateful for. It looks like the weather should be decent this weekend when I will be traveling to my parents' for Christmas week. I can't wait!

Books reviewed:

Longbourn by Jo Baker
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Crash Into You by Katie McGarry

Books read:

The Fiery Heart by Richelle Mead

I loved this book even with that gut wrenching ending. I need Silver Shadows right now! It is going to be a long wait till the release date next summer.

Roomies by Tara Altebrando and Sara Zarr

I was a little disappointed that this book wasn't all about college life the way I thought it was (I guess I didn't read the description very well). I still really liked it though. 

These Broken Stars by Amie Kauffman and Meagan Spooner

Oh how I loved this book. I wasn't sure if I would even with the high praise from publishers and reviewers but it worked for me. There is even one part that sort of broke my heart which I wasn't expecting at all. If you like the movie Titanic and teen fiction then you should consider putting this on your TBR list. It may be science fiction but it is really reads more like a survival story/love story so don't be intimidated!

Princess Ever After by Rachel Hauck

I thought this book was okay. While the first book in the series reminded me of The Prince and Me, this one reminds me of The Princess Diaries films.

Currently reading:

Diamonds and Deceit by Leila Rasheed

I am really enjoying this story so far. I am about halfway though the book. I was worried that I wouldn't remember enough of what happened in the first book to read this one but that hasn't been an issue. I just can't seem to get enough of these Downton Abbey inspired soapy novels. Love the backstabbing servants, gossip, and secrets :)

What I plan to read next:

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

I kind of want to read this before the end of the year so I can put it on my "Best of 2013" list like everyone else but I may not get to it. I am kind of in the mood for lighter and more entertaining fare.

No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale

This looks like a fun and quirky mystery so I may pick this one up after I finish Diamonds and Deceit.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review: Crash Into You

Crash Into You
By Katie McGarry
Published: November 26, 2013

From acclaimed author Katie McGarry comes an explosive new tale of a good girl with a reckless streak, a street-smart guy with nothing to lose, and a romance forged in the fast lane 

The girl with straight As, designer clothes and the perfect life-that's who people expect Rachel Young to be. So the private-school junior keeps secrets from her wealthy parents and overbearing brothers...and she's just added two more to the list. One involves racing strangers down dark country roads in her Mustang GT. The other? Seventeen-year-old Isaiah Walker-a guy she has no business even talking to. But when the foster kid with the tattoos and intense gray eyes comes to her rescue, she can't get him out of her mind. 

Isaiah has secrets, too. About where he lives, and how he really feels about Rachel. The last thing he needs is to get tangled up with a rich girl who wants to slum it on the south side for kicks-no matter how angelic she might look. 

But when their shared love of street racing puts both their lives in jeopardy, they have six weeks to come up with a way out. Six weeks to discover just how far they'll go to save each other.

My review:

This third book in the Pushing the Limits series focuses on Isaiah, a guy who looks tough on the outside but is really hurting because of the way he is always being left by those he loves. When I was first introduced to Isaiah in Pushing the Limits, I didn't have the best opinion of him. I liked him more than Beth but he seemed to be more into getting high than anything else. This book really dispels that myth and shows Isaiah's strengths and good qualities (he has also stopped using and was never really into partying). Like with Beth in Dare You To, Crash Into You gives a different view of Isaiah.

Isaiah struggles with his hurt feelings over Beth but meeting Rachel helps him to realize that what he felt for Beth wasn't romantic love. It seems like Rachel and Isaiah bond rather quickly but she does have two important things in common with him: a messed up family and a love of fast cars. In comparison to Echo and Beth however I found Rachel to be a weak character and love interest. It was really frustrating at times. She also has a large family and it was difficult to keep track of the expanding cast of characters along with Beth's new friends. I couldn't remember who some of them were.

Overall I thought this was a good romance but it didn't live up to Dare You To or Pushing the Limits. I would have liked more time devoted to Isaiah and Rachel overcoming their emotional issues and a little less time devoted to cars. It felt like things were resolved too quickly with their family problems and the conflict with Eric. What makes this work however is the desire to see two broken people get a much deserved happy ending. I also liked the glimpses of Echo and Noah and even Beth and Ryan and maybe my favorite character in the book, Isaiah's friend Abby. I hope she gets her own book someday. If you are a fan of Simone Elkeles or Jennifer Echols then consider giving this series a try. I recommend starting with Pushing the Limits. Although this book could be read as a standalone, it works better if you read it in order.

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of Netgalley and the publisher

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Top Ten Books on My Winter TBR List

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. There is a new subject each week and this week's topic is "Top Ten Books on My Winter TBR".

Here are some of the books I'm hoping to tackle this winter. The ones I am most excited about are Cress, The Lowland, City of Jasmine, and Attachments. My sister said The Lowland is amazing and it has received many positive reviews. I have also loved both books by Rainbow Rowell that I've read so I am eager to try Attachments, her novel for adults. I will definitely be reading Me Before You as it is a book group book for next year. 

I am less certain about Rebel Spring and A Clash of Kings. I liked Morgan Rhodes's debut, Falling Kingdoms but I'm not sure if I am invested enough to pick up the sequel yet. I also am a little intimidated by the next book in the A Song of Ice and Fire saga. I liked A Game of Thrones and I even watched the second season of the show which is based on A Clash of Kings but I have to be in the right mood for it.

Cress by Marissa Meyers

I read a sampler of the first few chapters and I was hooked right away. I can't wait to find out what happens to Cinder and Scarlet and to find out more about Cress.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

I love her writing style and this book has received high praise. I have equally high expectations for it...

City of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn

I am really intrigued by this one with its historical setting, adventure, and female pilot protagonist.

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Another retelling of Beauty and the Beast but with a twist. I am looking forward to reading this soon.

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

I mostly love her books so I am pretty sure this will be an enjoyable read.

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Me Before You has such an interesting premise. Hopefully it will be a great book for discussion.

No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale

Murder in 1980s Minnesota with a teenage sleuth. Sounds like fun plus I love the cover :)

Alienated by Melissa Landers

What made me want to pick this up is the addition of humor and the idea of an alien as a foreign exchange student.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

This looks like such a cute story and given the way that I feel about Eleanor and Park and Fangirl I just know I will love Attachments. I may keep this for February as a good Valentine's Day read.

Rebel Spring by Morgan Rhodes

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Review: Rose Under Fire

Rose Under Fire
Published: September 10, 2013

While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?

Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival.

My review:

Rose Under Fire is a companion novel to Code Name Verity. While the book can be read as a standalone, I recommend reading Code Name Verity first as there is some crossover of characters and spoilers for the book in Rose Under Fire.

While I thought Code Name Verity was a dark book, I felt this is even darker although you know the fate of the protagonist from the beginning. That is due to the setting and all the horrible things that Rose and the other women face in Ravensbrück. Elizabeth Wein does a good job of drawing the reader into those scenes with her descriptions and characters. There is a larger cast of characters but they have very distinct personalities. Initially I thought Rose reminded me of either Julie or Maddie from Code Name Verity but as the book progressed I saw that I worried for nothing. I admit that I was not a fan of her poetry at first but it came to be important to the story. 

I have read other books set in concentration camps that focus on the plight of Jews. This is the first novel that I've read that looks at the fate of political prisoners of France and Poland, particularly the "Rabbits", the Polish girls who were cruelly experimented on by Nazi "doctors". It was really difficult to read about what they went through and to worry over their fates. What makes it emotionally gut-wrenching is that these events are fictional depictions of things that really happened to people in the camps. Incidentally, this is the same camp where Corrie ten Boom (of The Hiding Place) and her sister Betsie were held for hiding Jews.

Rose Under Fire may be a painful book to read but it is inspiring too to read about these brave women and how they held on to their humanity and even helped each other at great personal risk. The Nazis did their best to dehumanize and demoralize the inmates, robbing them of their individuality and identity but Rose and the others held on to their names and memories and dreams. I liked how Rose used her poetry to help keep up morale or just bring a bit of beauty to such a dismal place. I also appreciated how the novel doesn't just end with liberation but looks at survivors' lives after release and the process of the war crime tribunals.

I found Rose Under Fire to be a worthy follow-up of Code Name Verity. It is the kind of story that moves you and leaves you with much to think about long after you've read it. If you are a fan of the first book, definitely give this a try. If you haven't read it yet, then pick up Code Name Verity

Note: I received an ARC for review purposed courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Review: Longbourn

By Jo Baker
Published: October 8, 2013

If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them.
In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended. 

Jo Baker dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Jane Austen’s classic—into the often overlooked domain of the stern housekeeper and the starry-eyed kitchen maid, into the gritty daily particulars faced by the lower classes in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars—and, in doing so, creates a vivid, fascinating, fully realized world that is wholly her own.

My review:

Longbourn may incorporate events and characters from Pride and Prejudice but it is really a story about the lives of servants-their hopes and dreams as well as their hardships. Those who are wary of this book as a retelling of Pride and Prejudice should not worry. It is definitely an original story. In fact Mr. Darcy has very little page time. Instead the focus is on the Bennet household and the servants. Unlike Jane Austen's novel, this is not a sanitized version of life in Regency England either. The housework is drudgery and there is also more discussion about the war with Napoleon and what life is like for soldiers. They don't just stand around looking handsome in their "regimentals".

The central characters are housemaid Sarah, Mr. and Mrs. Hill, Polly a simple minded young maid, and James the new footman whose arrival brings about upheaval belowstairs. In addition to the Bennets, we also get to see Mr. Collins through the servants' eyes which is interesting as he will be their new master someday. Mr. Wickham also spends time getting to know the servants and comes across as even more vile.

Sarah is perhaps the protagonist of the story. She longs for something more than what she has at Longbourn and the arrival of James as well as Ptolemy Bingley, manservant at Netherfield, cause her to dream of a different life. There is also some romance for Sarah and a bit of a love triangle to resolve. Sarah has some growing up to do even as Lydia makes her mistakes and the elder Bennet girls pursue love.

Longbourn doesn't have the snappy dialogue and sharp characterizations of Pride and Prejudice but it is a detailed historical fiction novel with characters that feel real. Rather than being a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, it enriches our understanding of some of the characters and presents a picture of what life might have been like back then for the average person. I found it fascinating to read about the everyday lives of servants and what was expected of them, especially in comparison to Downton Abbey which is set a century later. Fans of Jane Austen, Downton Abbey, and upstairs/downstairs drama should give this book a try.

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of Edelweiss and the publisher

Sunday, December 1, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (164)

It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

Well thankfully the snow storm we got on Tuesday didn't keep me from making it to my parents' place for Thanksgiving! It's hard to believe that Thanksgiving is over and Christmas is here. This means that the year is almost over too and I'm not ready for that. Hopefully we will not have a lot of snow before or around the holidays either.

I had a great Thanksgiving with my family and while I finished two books this past week, I also spent a lot of time cooking and watching T.V. I've wanted to watch Once Upon a Time for awhile now and so I finally started watching the first season on Netflix and I have to say that I am addicted. Maybe I will get even less reading done this week...

Books read:

The Golden Lily by Richelle Mead (reread)

The Indigo Spell by Richelle Mead (reread)

Currently reading:

The Fiery Heart by Richelle Mead

I am enjoying this book so far but I am also nervous for Sydney. She's got a lot of  big secrets to keep and I have a feeling she won't be able to keep them for much longer as the series is winding down. I just remember what the author put Rose and Dimitri through in the later books of the Vampire Academy series...

What I might read next:

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

I have heard a lot of good things about this book so I am excited to read it soon. Maybe this will be a good one to pick up when I finish The Fiery Heart or maybe I'll need to read a comedy instead if the Richelle Mead book ends up being sad.