Thursday, August 29, 2013

Review: The Bitter Kingdom

The Bitter Kingdom
By Rae Carson
Published: August 27, 2013

The epic conclusion to Rae Carson's Fire and Thorns trilogy. The seventeen-year-old sorcerer-queen will travel into the unknown realm of the enemy to win back her true love, save her country, and uncover the final secrets of her destiny.

Elisa is a fugitive in her own country. Her enemies have stolen the man she loves in order to lure her to the gate of darkness. As she and her daring companions take one last quest into unknown enemy territory to save Hector, Elisa will face hardships she's never imagined. And she will discover secrets about herself and her world that could change the course of history. She must rise up as champion-a champion to those who have hated her most.

My review:

I was a little worried that this book would disappoint me the way I've been disappointed with other final books in a series. I shouldn't have worried because The Bitter Kingdom was fantastic. 

Elisa is one of my favorite YA fantasy characters. She has grown so much over the course of the series and she is not a perfect leader but she is brave and intelligent and caring. She also proved that she won't back down from making tough decisions. In The Bitter Kingdom, Elisa is tested to the breaking point but she still believes in herself and keeps going. 

I appreciated the world building of this series and its political intrigue especially. I enjoyed learning more about the Godstones and the history of the Inviernos and Elisa's people. At first the Inviernos appear in the series as one might expect of a stereotypical villain but then in The Crown of Embers, Rae Carson shows readers their humanity through the character of Storm. She further develops that theme of looking beyond surface differences and prejudices in The Bitter Kingdom

I love the respectful relationship between Elisa and Hector that blossomed from friendship to love. I think Hector is a character who is Elisa's equal. It is really sweet when Elisa realizes that he loved her before she lost the weight and became the more confident person she is at the end of the book.

I really like the secondary characters in this series and grew to like Storm in this book. While Mara and Belen are also important to the story, I was disappointed to not see as much of Cosme. It made sense with the plot but I had hoped they would still be close friends.

There is plenty of action as well as the political intrigue though there are times when it is just Elisa and her friends battling the elements in a very harsh journey. It was great to see Elisa show her leadership, courage, and intelligence in this really satisfying conclusion. I will miss this series but I am very glad that it ended well. This is one of my favorite teen series and one of the best teen fantasy series out there at the moment. I can't wait to see what Rae Carson does next.

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

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (129)

"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:

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen
Release date: February 11, 2014

Description from Goodreads:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Garden Spells comes a novel about heartbroken people finding hope at a magical place in Georgia called Lost Lake

Suley, Georgia, is home to Lost Lake Cottages and not much else. Which is why it's the perfect place for newly-widowed Kate and her eccentric eight-year-old daughter Devin to heal. Kate spent one memorable childhood summer at Lost Lake, had her first almost-kiss at Lost Lake, and met a boy named Wes at Lost Lake. It was a place for dreaming. But Kate doesn't believe in dreams anymore, and her Aunt Eby, Lost Lake's owner, wants to sell the place and move on. Lost Lake's magic is gone. As Kate discovers that time has a way of standing still at Lost Lake can she bring the cottages—and her heart—back to life? Because sometimes the things you love have a funny way of turning up again. And sometimes you never even know they were lost . . . until they are found.

I've enjoyed several of the author's novels. I love the Southern setting and the little bit of magic and romance.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bout of Books 8.0 Wrap-Up

My goal for Bout of Books 8.0 was to finish at least 3 books and I was happy to surpass that. 

Here are the books I read:

The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abe
The Deepest Night by Shana Abe
True Sisters by Sandra Dallas
The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
The Smoke Thief by Shana Abe

My favorite book read for the read-a-thon:

Now I need to get caught up on writing my reviews! The Book Monsters are hosting a Monster Review-a-thon through September 1st so I might be signing up for that!

Did you participate in Bout of Books 8.0? How did you do?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Bout of Books 8.0

Bout of Books

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 19th and runs through Sunday, August 25th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 8.0 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

So I am a little late in signing up for this but I have been reading all day (nothing like a "bout" of flu to give you an excuse to stay in and read!).

My goals:

Finish at least 3 books

What I am currently reading:

The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abe

On my TBR pile:

The Deepest Night by Shana Abe
The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
True Sisters by Sandra Dallas
The Sum of All Kisses by Julia Quinn
How to Lose a Bride in One Night by Sophie Jordan

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Review: The Husband's Secret

The Husband's Secret
By Liane Moriarty
Published: July 30, 2013

At the heart of The Husband’s Secret is a letter that’s not meant to be read

My darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I’ve died. . . .

Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. . . .
Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.

Acclaimed author Liane Moriarty has written a gripping, thought-provoking novel about how well it is really possible to know our spouses—and, ultimately, ourselves.

My review:

When I read Liane Moriarty's What Alice Forgot, it reminded me of Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella but with a more serious bent. While initially Cecilia's character seemed a little out there like a more responsible version of Kinsella's heroines, The Husband's Secret is a darker book. 

Cecilia is one of those supermoms who successfully manages both a career and busy home and social life. She talks a lot but people mostly think well of her (or are jealous of her for being so on top of it all). Cecilia's inner monologue can be entertaining and sometimes heartbreaking. It definitely makes her a real and more likable character.

Rachel is the secretary at the elementary school Cecilia's daughter attends. Rachel is still grieving the murder of her daughter Janie who died as a teen years ago. Now her son is moving his family to the U.S., taking Rachel's young grandson (and only source of comfort) away. Rachel is mired in grief and bitterness but I still felt sympathy for her because she seems to be so alone.

Tess is dealing with the shock of finding out her husband and her cousin Felicity (who happens to be her best friend) are in love with each other though they claim "nothing has happened yet". This betrayal sends her back to Sydney where her path will cross with Cecilia and Rachel as well as her ex-boyfriend Connor Whitby. While I did feel bad for Tess because of her marriage situation, I didn't agree with some of her decisions and she came across as childish at times.

I thought the characterization of the main characters was really well done. There aren't any easy answers and the author gives the reader the ability to empathize with the characters and to be able to see both sides of the story. Tess's story is perhaps the weakest because Will is off screen for much of the book but the other stories were well developed. 

I wanted to read this book partly because it involves secrets. I have to admit that I was way off base on what the secret would be and I'm glad. I liked how with all three story threads there is some closure and some things left open-ended like it is in real life. I think this book poses some tough questions to consider and I think it would be a great book for book groups to read and discuss. 

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of Amazon Vine

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

ARC August Update

I can't believe we are in the middle of August already. Today the weather is a lot cooler-a reminder that Fall is just around the corner.

I signed up to participate in ARC August to try to whittle down my overwhelming pile of e-ARCs. So far this month I have finished two ARCs:

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty (my review will be up tomorrow)

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

Currently I am reading:

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell 

I really like it so far though it is different from Eleanor and Park. I hope to finish it by this weekend.

Then I plan to read one of these:

The Deepest Night by Shana Abe (I'm still reading book one in the series)
The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
The Sum of All Kisses by Julia Quinn
All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

Have you read any of these? Any recommendations?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Review: Willowleaf Lane

Willowleaf Lane
By RaeAnne Thayne
Published: June 25, 2013

Sometimes going back is the best way to start over

Candy shop owner Charlotte Caine knows temptation. To reboot her life, shed weight and gain perspective, she's passing up sweet enticements left and right. But willpower doesn't come so easily when hell-raiser Spencer Gregory comes back to Hope's Crossing, bringing with him memories of broken promises and teen angst. A retired pro baseball player on the mend from injury—and a damaging scandal—he's interested in his own brand of reinvention.

Now everything about Spencer's new-and-improved lifestyle, from his mission to build a rehab facility for injured veterans to his clear devotion to his preteen daughter, Peyton, touches Charlotte's heart. Holding on to past hurt is her only protection against falling for him—again. But if she takes the risk, will she find in Spencer a hometown heartbreaker, or the hero she's always wanted?

My review:

This is the fifth book in the Hope's Crossing series (after Current Creek Valley) and while it can be read as a standalone novel since the author catches the reader up on who's who and important events, I read Blackberry Summer first. Each book focuses on a main couple and we get to read the development of their romance from both the heroine and hero's perspectives which is nice. The books also have strong secondary characters which will appeal to fans of series who like knowing what happens in the lives of their favorite couples down the road. The town of Hope's Crossing is charming but not perfect with a small town feel and close but sometimes obnoxious neighbors. The descriptions of the scenery are really appealing and make me want to visit Colorado.

Willowleaf Lane tells the story of Charlotte Caine, the daughter of diner owner Dermot Caine, and the proprietress of Sugar Rush, the popular Hope's Crossing candy shop. Charlotte is at a relatively good place in her life after making some healthy changes. Her shop is also doing well. Then her former crush, Spencer Gregory comes back to Hope's Crossing and it is like she is back in high school again. 

I have to admit that I was not entirely a fan of the romance between Charlotte and Spencer and I think it is because I didn't completely like his character. Spencer is not as well developed as some of Thayne's other heroes from the series like Riley or Jackson. I also thought that Charlotte used her high school feelings and hurts as a weak barrier to a romance with him. If more time was devoted to the building of a relationship based not on the past friendship between Charlotte and Spencer but on who they are currently, I might have found it easier to buy into. Spencer does have some good qualities such as his desire to be a good dad to Peyton and I felt bad for the way the town kept judging him unfairly. I just wish the romance aspect lived up to my expectations after reading the other books.

It was great to get caught up on the happenings in the lives of the other Hope's Crossing residents from the previous books. I also liked the setup for the next book featuring Charlotte's brother. Overall while this isn't my favorite book in the series, I did like Charlotte and there were enough positives to outweigh the story's weaknesses. I did like the bond that developed between Charlotte and Peyton and how Charlotte helped her adjust to living in Hope's Crossing. Those scenes were among my favorites in the book.

If you like contemporary romances in small town settings, you might want to check out the Hope's Crossing books. I suggest starting with Blackberry Summer because it sets up the rest of the series really well. Willowleaf Lane may not have been as good as some of the other books but it was still an enjoyable romance in a great setting.

Note: I received an ARC for review courtesy of Amazon Vine

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (128)

"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:

Scorched by Mari Mancusi
Release date: September 3, 2013

Description from Goodreads:

Don't leave me here... It starts with a whisper. At first Trinity thinks she's going crazy. It wouldn't be a big surprise--her grandpa firmly believes there's a genuine dragon egg in their dusty little West Texas town. But this voice is real, and it's begging for her protection. Even if no one else can hear it...

He's come from a future scorched by dragonfire. His mission: Find the girl. Destroy the egg. Save the world.

He's everything his twin brother Connor hates: cocky, undisciplined, and obsessed with saving dragons. 

Trinity has no idea which brother to believe. All she has to go by is the voice in her head--a dragon that won't be tamed.

I like books about dragons and I am intrigued by the idea of both the dragons and time travel.

The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle
Release date: August 27, 2013

Description from Goodreads:

For as long as she can remember, Wren Gray’s goal has been to please her parents. But as high school graduation nears, so does an uncomfortable realization: Pleasing her parents once overlapped with pleasing herself, but now... not so much. Wren needs to honor her own desires, but how can she if she doesn’t even know what they are?

Charlie Parker, on the other hand, is painfully aware of his heart’s desire. A gentle boy with a troubled past, Charlie has loved Wren since the day he first saw her. But a girl like Wren would never fall for a guy like Charlie—at least not the sort of guy Charlie believes himself to be.

And yet certain things are written in the stars. And in the summer after high school, Wren and Charlie’s souls will collide. But souls are complicated, as are the bodies that house them...

Sexy, romantic, and oh-so-true to life, this is an unforgettable look at first love from one of young adult fiction’s greatest writers.

I've been drawn to pick up more contemporary YA fiction lately and I think this sounds promising.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (153)

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 reviewed:

Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan

Books read:

Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

I really enjoyed this creative retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel. The adventure/suspense angle is perhaps better than the romance in this one but I didn't mind that much.

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

I think this book would be great for book discussion groups. In some ways it was darker than I thought it would be but I liked it.

Currently reading:

The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abe

I've heard mostly positive things about this book and I requested the sequel for review from Amazon Vine so I need to read this one first. So far I like the writing style. It reminds me a little of Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty.

What I plan to read next:

The Deepest Night by Shana Abe

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

A member of my book group said this book was fantastic so I decided to move it up on my review pile. I have a feeling I will like it since there is a mystery involved.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

ARC August

ARC August is a month long event hosted by Read. Sleep. Repeat. The goal is to read as many physical and digital advance review copies as you can. There is also a chance to win a $20 gift card to the book retailer of your choice. To find out more, visit the sign up post here.

I have a big spreadsheet listing my ARCs that I still need to read and write reviews for. Here are some of the books I hope to read this month:

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
The Deepest Night by Shana Abe
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill
The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
The Sum of All Kisses by Julia Quinn
The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian
The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Review: Maid of Secrets

Maid of Secrets
By Jennifer McGowan
Published: May 7, 2013

Seventeen-year-old Meg Fellowes is a wry, resourceful thief forced to join an elite group of female spies in Queen Elizabeth’s Court. There she must solve a murder, save the Crown, and resist the one thing that will become her greatest freedom–and her deadliest peril. 

For Meg and her fellow spies are not alone in their pursuit of the murderer who stalks Windsor Castle.

A young, mysterious Spanish courtier, Count Rafe de Martine, appears at every turn in the dark and scandal-filled corridors of the Queen’s summer palace. And though secrets and danger are Meg’s stock-in-trade, she’s never bargained on falling in love…

My review:

I love Tudor history and the idea of a novel set during that time period and featuring a young woman who is training as a spy really appealed to me. 

Meg is a thief and actress with the gift of being able to recall what she hears with perfect clarity. When her acting troupe performs before Queen Elizabeth, she comes to the attention of Sir Robert Cecil whose pocket she picks. He has her arrested and then offers her a chance at redemption by becoming a spy for Queen Elizabeth. 

I liked that things didn't just come easily for Meg from that point. She had to really work at developing skills like learning to read. She also had to work to fit in with the other spies in training. It was great to see a friendship grow among the girls, even Beatrice who at times seemed like evil incarnate. Something else I enjoyed was the glimpse of real historical figures like Queen Elizabeth, Cecil, and Walsingham. The details of working with a theatre troupe were also fascinating.

The mystery of what happened to Meg's predecessor and trying to figure out who was good and who was bad kept the pages turning. The romance was not as appealing to me for some reason. Maybe it just seemed more of an instantaneous attraction that wasn't really based on Meg getting to know Rafe. 

Overall I thought this was an entertaining book because of the characters, the mystery and the setting and I'd probably read the sequel to find out what happens next for Meg. This would be a good pick for fans of Y.S. Lee's The Agency mystery series as well as those who like historical fiction set during Tudor times. 

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