Sunday, June 30, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (150)

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 can't believe that July is here already and the year is half over. This week I'll be heading to Canada for my annual visit to see family up there. I will miss being in the States for the 4th of July but it has been a long time since I've gone to see the fireworks anyway. I probably won't have much time for reading but I am going to give it my best effort.

Books reviewed:

Chantress by Amy Butler Greenfield

Books read:

The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan

This is the first book I've read by J. Courtney Sullivan and I loved it. I wasn't sure if I would at first but I found the premise interesting and after reading some very positive reviews, I decided to give it a try.  

All the Summer Girls by Meg Donohue

I loved How to Eat a Cupcake and I liked this book. I enjoy books that delve into friendships, secrets, and relationships. The beach setting was also a plus.

Currently reading:

Blackberry Summer by RaeAnne Thayne

I just started Blackberry Summer this evening. I will be reading another book in the series for review (Willowleaf Lane) so I wanted to at least start with the first book to be introduced to the town and the characters. So far I think it will be a nice small town romance with a little mystery.

What I plan to read next:

Willowleaf Lane by RaeAnne Thayne

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

I really enjoyed What Alice Forgot so I was excited to see this book available to request for review. I hope it will live up to my expectations!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Review: Chantress

By Amy Butler Greenfield
Published: May 7, 2013

Lucy’s Chantress magic will make her the most powerful—and most hunted—girl in England.

“Sing, and the darkness will find you.” This warning has haunted fifteen-year-old Lucy ever since she was eight and shipwrecked on a lonely island. Lucy’s guardian, Norrie, has lots of rules, but the most important is that Lucy must never sing. Not ever. Now it is 1667, Lucy is fifteen, and on All Hallows’ Eve, Lucy hears a tantalizing melody on the wind. She can’t help but sing—and she is swept into darkness.

When she awakes in England, Lucy hears powerful men discussing Chantresses—women who can sing magic into the world. They are hunting her, but she escapes and finds sanctuary with the Invisible College, an organization plotting to overthrow the nefarious Lord Protector. The only person powerful enough to bring about his downfall is a Chantress. And Lucy is the last one in England.

Lucy struggles to master the song-spells and harness her power, but the Lord Protector is moving quickly. And her feelings for Nat, an Invisible College apprentice and scientist who deeply distrusts her magic, only add to her confusion…

Time is running out, and the fate of England hangs in the balance in this entrancing novel that is atmospheric and lyrical, dangerous and romantic.

My review:

Chantress is a historical fantasy which was part of the book's appeal for me. The author has a way of painting a scene with her words and I was drawn into the story right away. I also enjoyed the world-building and learning about Chantress magic.

I liked how determined Lucy was to succeed. It really is a struggle for her to learn magic and she has to practice all day. The book goes into great detail about her difficulties and her perseverance. Lucy is at a big disadvantage because she was never taught to use her Chantress magic. Now the Invisible College wants her to use those abilities to stop the Lord Protector and his evil creatures, the Shadowgrims. The magic birds are similar to the dementors in the Harry Potter books. They spread despair but they also eavesdrop, suck memories out of people and are used for interrogation. Unfortunately Lucy is particularly vulnerable to Shadowgrims and they cause her to collapse when they are near. All of this danger only makes it more important for Lucy to learn quickly. 

The romance element is not as big as the book's description suggests. Nat and Lucy do not get along at first and it takes some time for them to trust each other and then slowly it develops into an attraction. It isn't till the end of the book that they become a couple. I liked the progression of the relationship and that it didn't overshadow the more important threads of the story.

Overall I thought this was an entertaining read. The suspense kept my interest even though there were times when I grew impatient with the slow progress of Lucy's studies (she is kept hidden for a long period of time while she learns magic). The Shadowgrims and the threat they represent added a chilling menace to the story. I liked that this can be a self contained novel though it is the first in a trilogy. If you are a fan of historical fiction and fantasy and if you are looking for a book without romantic angst or cliffhanger endings, you might consider giving Chantress a try.

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

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (126)

"Waiting on" Wednesday is a weekly meme to discuss upcoming books we can't wait to get our hands on. Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week, I'm waiting on:

Crash Into You by Katie McGarry
Release date: November 26, 2013

Description from Goodreads:

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.

I liked Pushing the Limits and loved Dare You To so I have high hopes for Crash Into You

Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson
Release date: September 28, 2013

Description from Goodreads:

Kate Worthington knows her heart and she knows she will never marry. Her plan is to travel to India instead—if only to find peace for her restless spirit and to escape the family she abhors. But Kate’s meddlesome mother has other plans. She makes a bargain with Kate: India, yes, but only after Kate has secured—and rejected—three marriage proposals.

Kate journeys to the stately manor of Blackmoore determined to fulfill her end of the bargain and enlists the help of her dearest childhood friend, Henry Delafield. But when it comes to matters of love, bargains are meaningless and plans are changeable. There on the wild lands of Blackmoore, Kate must face the truth that has kept her heart captive. Will the proposal she is determined to reject actually be the one thing that will set her heart free?

Set in Northern England in 1820, Blackmoore is a Regency romance that tells the story of a young woman struggling to learn how to follow her heart. It is Wuthering Heights meets Little Women with a delicious must-read twist.

I loved Edenbrooke so I was excited to find out that the author has another Regency romance coming out. I hope the book will not be like Wuthering Heights but the Little Women comparison isn't a bad thing. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Top Ten Books I've Read So Far 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've Read So Far in 2013"

While I'm waiting on the publication of several books I've been anticipating like The House of Hades by Rick Riordan, Allegiant by Veronica Roth, and United We Spy by Ally Carter, here are some of my favorites so far this year:

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Every once in awhile, I read a book for book discussion group and end up loving it.  Even though I saw a lot of positive reviews for this book last year, I had no interest in reading it just for fun. It didn't sound appealing to me at all. Then when my group voted for it and I started reading it, I realized right away what I would have missed out on otherwise. I loved the writing style and the characters and it was a story with emotional impact.

On Sal Mal Lane by Ru Freeman

I knew I wanted to read this book because it was about Sri Lanka but I ended up loving it because of the characters too. Now I want to read the author's other novel, A Disobedient Girl, and I'm hoping one of my book groups will be able to read and discuss On Sal Mal Lane.

Golden by Jessi Kirby

I was a big fan of Moonglass but I was only sort of interested in reading this book at first. I ended up really liking it because of the main character and the issues it explores. I thought it was a really good look at the emotions and stress that teens have to deal with when they are getting ready to graduate and go out into the "real world".

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Les Miserables is an intimidating book in a way because of its size. I also thought it could use some editing to focus on the story more instead of historical details about the Paris sewer system, etc. Watching the movie helped spur my decision to tackle this book and I'm glad I persevered because in the end I found it to be rewarding. 

Looking For Me by Beth Hoffman

I loved Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, the author's debut novel that is similar to The Help and The Secret Life of Bees. This book is set in a different time and looks at family relationships. I enjoyed it for all the details about furniture restoration as well as the setting (partly set in Charleston). It reminded me a little bit of some of Mary Kay Andrews's books (she also uses details about the protagonist's career to add to the story).

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

I didn't think I'd like this book though I ended up requesting it for review after seeing a lot of positive reaction from other bloggers. I misunderstood what the book was about so I had lower expectations and ended up really enjoying the story, the characters, and the development of the romance. It reminded me of Katie McGarry's Dare You To and Pushing the Limits and I think fans of Simone Elkeles and Jennifer Echols would also like it.

Dare You To by Katie McGarry

This is another book that took me by surprise. I liked book one, Pushing the Limits, but wasn't sure about this one since the main character is Beth who I didn't like very much in the first book. The author made Beth a really sympathetic character however and I also liked that the love interest was basically a nice guy.

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

Susanna Kearsley is one of my favorite authors. Her books usually feature either some kind of time travel or a dual story line where one part takes place in the past and one part takes place in the present. I also like that the books are usually about Scotland in some way. While The Firebird is set partly in Russia, it looks at the lives of Jacobites living abroad there. My favorite part however was the relationship between Nicola and Rob.

Poison by Bridget Zinn

This was a really cute debut novel that had humor and romance. I wanted to read it when I first heard about it but didn't expect I'd enjoy it as much as I did. 

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

Edenbrooke got my attention when it was nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award. It is a sweet Regency romance though it wisely doesn't try to ape the writing style of Jane Austen. I found the love story to be very satisfying and hope the author writes more.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (149)

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.

The past two weeks have been really productive reading-wise. I actually read two books from start to finish in one day which usually doesn't happen unless I am doing a read-a-thon. Now I just need to get caught up on all the reviews!

Books reviewed:

On Sal Mal Lane by Ru Freeman
The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

Books read:

Time Flies by Claire Cook

I liked the friendship between Melanie and B.J., the way they tried to help each other overcome their fears, and their adventures on the way to their high school class reunion. There was one thing that annoyed me and kept me from fully enjoying the book and it had to do with a potential love interest.

The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck

On a whim I decided to pick up some Christian fiction since I haven't read it in awhile. I had read a starred review of the author's new book but since it wasn't available to check out, I got this one instead. Kind of reminded me of a cross between a Hallmark movie and the Christian fiction version of a Sarah Addison Allen type of story.

Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro

This was a book discussion book and if it wasn't, I probably wouldn't have finished it. I usually prefer novels to short stories but I did like Alice Munro's writing style. My problem is that I would read the stories but I wouldn't remember what I read. Only a few of the stories really stood out to me. Most of the members of the group really liked this book but it wasn't my cup of tea.

45 Pounds (More or Less) by K.A. Barson

I really liked this book and I thought it had a good message. I felt so bad for Ann and what she had to put up with at home and it was great to see things change for the better by the end of the story.

The Son of Sobek by Rick Riordan

This was such a fun short story to read. I kind of hope that Carter will make an appearance in one of the Percy Jackson books in the future. I also enjoyed the sneak peek of The House of Hades

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan (reread)

I enjoyed the audio book but didn't care for the voice the narrator chose for Hazel. It was fun to experience this story in a different way though. 

Catch a Falling Star by Beth Vogt

I mostly liked this book though it does have some flaws. I thought it was nice to find a protagonist who is in her mid-30s for a change.

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

I did not have high expectations going into this book but I ended up loving it. I think people who like Katie McGarry's books would enjoy it too. Nastya reminded me of both Beth and Echo combined.

How to Marry a Marquis by Julia Quinn

This was a funny book though in the end it was a little too saccharine and it had some plot weaknesses. Not as good as her Bridgerton books but I still liked it and it featured Lady Danbury who is always good for a laugh.

Currently reading:

The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan

I've only started reading this but I like the author's writing style. I thought it was interesting to see how the advertising slogan "A Diamond is Forever" came into being. I am not a huge fan of diamonds but I like the premise of this book and I've read really positive reviews of it.

What I plan to read next:

Ladies' Night by Mary Kay Andrews

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Review: The Firebird

The Firebird
By Susanna Kearsley
Published: June 4, 2013

Nicola Marter was born with a gift. When she touches an object, she sometimes sees images; glimpses of those who have owned it before. It’s never been a gift she wants, and she keeps it a secret from most people, including her practical boss Sebastian, one of London’s premier dealers in Russian art.

But when a woman offers Sebastian a small wooden carving for sale, claiming it belonged to Russia’s Empress Catherine, it’s a problem. There’s no proof. Sebastian believes that the plain carving—known as “The Firebird”—is worthless. But Nicola’s held it, and she knows the woman is telling the truth, and is in desperate need of the money the sale of the heirloom could bring.

Compelled to help, Nicola turns to a man she once left, and still loves: Rob McMorran, whose own psychic gifts are far greater than hers. With Rob to help her “see” the past, she follows a young girl named Anna from Scotland to Belgium and on into Russia. There, in St. Petersburg—the once-glittering capital of Peter the Great’s Russia—Nicola and Rob unearth a tale of love and sacrifice, of courage and redemption…an old story that seems personal and small, perhaps, against the greater backdrops of the Jacobite and Russian courts, but one that will forever change their lives.

My review:

The Firebird is a companion novel to two of my favorite of Susanna Kearsley's books: The Winter Sea and The Shadowy Horses. While you don't have to read either book to understand The Firebird, I recommend reading The Winter Sea first because of some spoilers in The Firebird (plus it is my favorite of Susanna Kearsley's books).

Usually I prefer the historical story over the contemporary but while I liked Anna's story while she was young, I found that it wasn't as compelling as she grew up and became a young woman in Russia. The setting was interesting and I expected more details about Russian life but the focus was on the lives of Scottish people living in Russia instead. I admired Anna's fortitude as a girl who is constantly searching for home and always having it yanked away from her for safety reasons. She was a spunky girl but unfortunately I found her to be a little bland when she grew up. She kind of reminded me of Cosette from Les Miserables. I still liked her but I think I missed some of the excitement that had been part of her story when she was on the run.

I think one of the most enjoyable parts of this book was the growing romance between Rob and Nicola. They had a past history together that Nicola fled because of her fears about their psychic abilities and the way outsiders would view it. As she and Rob follow the story of Anna, Nicola gains the strength to overcome those fears and accept who she is and what she and Rob could have together.

I enjoy time-slip novels and I liked how Nicola and Rob could see the past unfold before them in the present. While it would be a trial I think if you always had to worry when you touched an object that you'd see things you didn't want to see, I think it would be neat at the same time to see some history right in front of you. Although Anna's character wasn't as exciting when she grew older, I did like reading about the experiences of the Jacobites living abroad in Russia and learning about Russian customs of that time.

Overall I thought this was another satisfying romance by Susanna Kearsley. If you've never tried her books, I suggest you start with The Winter Sea and then make your way to this one.

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

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (125)

"Waiting on" Wednesday is a weekly meme to discuss upcoming books we can't wait to get our hands on. Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week, I'm waiting on:

Description from Goodreads:

An imaginative story of a woman caught in an alternate world—where she will need to learn the skills of magic to survive

Nora Fischer’s dissertation is stalled and her boyfriend is about to marry another woman.  During a miserable weekend at a friend’s wedding, Nora wanders off and walks through a portal into a different world where she’s transformed from a drab grad student into a stunning beauty.  Before long, she has a set of glamorous new friends and her romance with gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It’s almost too good to be true.

Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora’s new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school. Her only real ally—and a reluctant one at that—is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. And it will take her becoming Aruendiel’s student—and learning magic herself—to survive. When a passage home finally opens, Nora must weigh her "real life" against the dangerous power of love and magic.

For lovers of Lev Grossman's The Magicians series (The Magicians andThe Magician King) and Deborah Harkness's All Souls Trilogy (A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night).

While I was not a fan of A Discovery of Witches, I am hopeful that I will like this book. I kind of like the idea that the handsome guy and perfect life turn out to be fake and she has to learn magic and break free. I don't think it is a good idea to compare this book to others that are so popular though because then people might be disappointed!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review: On Sal Mal Lane

On Sal Mal Lane
By Ru Freeman
Published: May 14, 2013

On the day the Herath family moves in, Sal Mal Lane is still a quiet street, disturbed only by the cries of the children whose triumphs and tragedies sustain the families that live there. As the neighbors adapt to the newcomers in different ways, the children fill their days with cricket matches, romantic crushes, and small rivalries. But the tremors of civil war are mounting, and the conflict threatens to engulf them all. 

In a heartrending novel poised between the past and the future, the innocence of the children—a beloved sister and her overprotective siblings, a rejected son and his twin sisters, two very different brothers—contrasts sharply with the petty prejudices of the adults charged with their care. In Ru Freeman’s masterful hands, On Sal Mal Lane, a story of what was lost to a country and her people, becomes a resounding cry for reconciliation.

My review:

On Sal Mal Lane examines the tensions in Sri Lanka in the years leading up to the Civil War (1979-1983) through the lens of the inhabitants of Sal Mal Lane, especially the children. I found that this was a really effective way to tell the story and while there are dark times there are also moments when kids are just being kids and discovering who they are and who they hope to become. I think that helps the book to be more universal in its themes.

The novel has a third person omniscient point of view so we get to know all of the main players but it focuses on the views of the kids of Sal Mal Lane, particularly the Herath children: Suren, Rashmi, Nihil, and Devi. The story starts out with the Heraths moving into their home and the reactions of the various neighbors, most notably the Silvas who, like the Heraths, are Sinhalese Buddhists. Unlike the rest of the families on the street, the Silvas have this attitude of "us vs. them" towards those who are not Sinhalese.  

While the Silvas have that negative attitude towards Tamils and anyone else not like them in ethnicity or religion, the other neighbors are mostly helpful and friendly with each other (with the exception of Sonna Bolling and occasionally his hot tempered dad). They respect each other and they all seem to love the Herath children and look out for them. It is really nice to see the sense of community in the midst of the growing strife. Some of my favorite scenes in the book involved the ways that the characters came together to celebrate a holiday or helped each other in some way. These scenes of peacefulness made the chaos and destruction of what was to come that much more jarring.

Even though the third person omniscient point of view can create a feeling of distance between the reader and the characters, I did not find that to be the case for me. I was able to connect with the story emotionally and I loved some of the characters like Devi, Raju, and Mr. Niles. Devi brought so much joy to her family and the community and Nihil was such a protective brother. The Herath kids all seemed to touch the lives of the people around them and I was particularly touched by the way Raju grew because of their friendship.  Even some of the unlikable characters had depth to them which I appreciated, especially Sonna. I couldn't completely despise him because there were those moments when the reader got to see his vulnerability and pain. 

I also loved the descriptions of the food, the culture, and everyday life. I did find myself consulting the glossary at the back to look up unfamiliar terms but I liked learning while I read. There is also a list of characters at the front but I wish that the author had listed which family was Sinhalese, Tamil, or Burgher as that came in to play later in the book and could be confusing to keep track of.

Though I connected with this book on a personal level, I don't think you have to be of Sri Lankan heritage to be moved by the story. Overall I thought this was an amazing book. I wish there hadn't been so much foreshadowing about certain events but other than that I really really liked it. It was an emotional reading experience for me and in a way I was sad when the story was over. I will definitely be picking up the author's other novel, A Disobedient Girl

Now for some personal thoughts on the book:

I wanted to read this book because it was about Sri Lanka. My parents are Sri Lankan Tamils and they came to the States in the mid 1970s before the events of this story. I grew up hearing about their beautiful country without knowing much about the turmoil until I was in my teens. I remember being shocked when I first heard about the experiences of my relatives who were still in Sri Lanka during the 1983 riots. Their lives were saved by the kindness of people like the fictional Heraths. 

Reading this book helped me to understand the unrest that lead to the war but it also helped me to appreciate the experiences of those who lived through those fearful times. I am glad that the author chose to portray things evenly. It wasn't just one side versus the other. There were lots of good innocent people who got caught in the crossfire between the Tigers and the military and everyone suffered. The war ended in 2009 and I am hopeful that the country will continue to heal and the peace will last.

Note: I received an ARC of this book for review through Amazon Vine but I liked the book so much that I ended up purchasing the finished version before I was halfway through

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (124)

"Waiting on" Wednesday is a weekly meme to discuss upcoming books we can't wait to get our hands on. Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week, I'm waiting on:

Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub
Release date: 7-9-13

Description from Goodreads:

Romeo and Juliet are gone. Will love live on? Despite the glooming peace that's settled on Verona after the recent tragedy, Montagues and Capulets are brawling in the streets. Faced with more bloody battles, Prince Escalus concludes that the only way to truly marry the fortunes of these two families is to literally marry them together. Everyone is skeptical, but none more so than the pair selected, for the most eligible Montague bachelor is Benvolio, Romeo's best friend, still anguished by the loss of his companions, and the chosen Capulet maid is Juliet's older cousin Rosaline, the girl Romeo first loved and whose refusal of Romeo's affection paved the way for bloodshed. Contrary to their late cousins, there's no love lost between Benvolio and Rosaline, yet they forge a bond to end the renewed feud not only to escape their forced betrothal, but to save their lives and the city of Verona itself.

I like the idea of giving Benvolio a story. I preferred his character to Romeo in the original play. The early reviews are positive too.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (148)

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.

Books read:

On Sal Mal Lane by Ru Freeman

I loved this book. It is one of my favorites so far this year. It was an emotional reading experience and I will definitely be checking out the author's other novel, A Disobedient Girl.

Vader's Little Princess by Jeffrey Brown

Like the first book, Darth Vader and Son, this was a cute collection of scenes inspired by Star Wars. In this book, Darth Vader watches his young daughter become a teen and there are some funny scenes between them particularly when she starts dating a teenage Han Solo...

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan (reread)

It took me a little time to adjust to the narrator but I really got into the story after awhile. It is a different experience to listen to the book after reading it. I think I am glad I read the book first. I didn't enjoy some of the author's character voices (not everyone can be Jim Dale!) but I am going to listen to the rest of the series if I can.

Books reviewed:

Dare You To by Katie McGarry

Currently reading:

Time Flies by Claire Cook

I am really enjoying this book. I think I could relate to Melanie because of her fears and how she lets her fears hold her back. For a long time I couldn't drive on the highway either. I also like her friendship with B.J. who is quite a character.

What I plan to read next:

Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro

This is the afternoon book group pick for June. I haven't read anything by Alice Munro before but from the snippets I've already read in this book, I think I will like it.

The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

I kind of wish I could go to the beach but for now I will have to settle for beach books like this one. At least the weather is warming up again.  I wouldn't mind if it stayed in the 80s forever :)