Sunday, September 29, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (157)

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.

It is not Halloween yet but the stores already have their Christmas stuff out on the shelves. This past week I also read two books set at Christmastime. Hmm. I guess once the 4th of July is over, it is time to dig out the stockings and ornaments!

Last week, I read the third book in Brenda Novak's Whiskey Creek series and after finishing The Burning Sky, I decided to get caught up and read the rest of the Whiskey Creek books since I had two for review.  

I have been in the mood for contemporary romance lately but I know it will soon be time to read darker stuff for winter. I just bought A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin which will probably be my final book of 2013 or my first book of 2014. Winter is coming...

Books reviewed:

A Question of Honor by Charles Todd
Star Wars: Razor's Edge by Martha Wells

Books read:

The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas

I loved this YA fantasy novel. It had humor as well as the fantasy and suspense. Plus Rae Carson says it's good and since she is one of my favorite YA authors, I listen to her recommendations!

When Lightning Strikes by Brenda Novak

When We Touch by Brenda Novak

When Snow Falls by Brenda Novak

Home to Whiskey Creek by Brenda Novak

I really liked the main character in this book. Sophia has been treated with contempt throughout the series because of her past mistakes when she was a teen and because she is now the wife of a horribly pompous jerk. It was nice to see how much she has changed but hard to see how people treated her like she hadn't. I think this is one of my favorite books in the series.

Currently reading:

This is a fun story so far. It is set in a small town in Maine with a lot of character.

What I might read next depending on my mood:

I really liked the other books in this series so I am looking forward to this one. 

Teatime for the Firefly by Shona Patel

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Review: Star Wars Razor's Edge

Star Wars: Razor's Edge
By Martha Wells
Published: September 24, 2013

Times are desperate for the Rebel Alliance. Harassment by the Empire and a shortage of vital supplies are hindering completion of a new secret base on the ice planet Hoth. So when Mid Rim merchants offer much-needed materials for sale, Princess Leia Organa and Han Solo lead an Alliance delegation to negotiate a deal.

But when treachery forces the rebel ship to flee into territory controlled by pirates, Leia makes a shocking discovery: the fierce marauders come from Leia’s homeworld of Alderaan, recently destroyed by the Death Star. These refugees have turned to pillaging and plundering to survive—and they are in debt to a pirate armada, which will gladly ransom the princess to the vengeful Empire . . . if they find out her true identity.

Struggling with intense feelings of guilt, loyalty, and betrayal, Leia is determined to help her wayward kinspeople, even as Imperial forces are closing in on her own crippled ship. Trapped between lethal cutthroats and brutal oppressors, Leia and Han, along with Luke, Chewbacca, and a battle-ready crew, must defy death—or embrace it—to keep the rebellion alive.

My review:

This book in the years between the events of Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. While the description makes it sound like Luke and Chewie are a big part of the story, they are not. Instead the focus is on Leia and Han as well as new characters who are members of the Alliance, the pirate crew, or the Empire.

I thought Razor's Edge was an entertaining book once the action got underway. Leia has to figure out how to walk a fine line in trying to save people's lives and bring the Alderaanian pirate crew over to the side of the Rebel Alliance. She also has to contend with a cunning enemy, a spy, and incompetent or uncontrollable team members. Han is the other main character and we get to read the story from both of their points of view.

It is fun to see Han and Leia interact and banter back and forth. Of course there is no romance as this story takes place before The Empire Strikes Back. I think the author managed to make the characters and their dialogue believable and authentic to the film version. 

I will admit that I figured out the spy and thought it was rather obvious but what kept me entertained was the banter and quips by favorite characters as well as trying to figure out how Leia and Han would extricate themselves from sticky situations.

I liked that the author chose to look at the effects of the loss of Alderaan to its survivors. That is kind of glossed over in the grand and epic scope of the films. It was good to explore how Leia and others would have felt about losing their homeworld and families and how that might have impacted Leia's work with the Rebel Alliance. I think what I appreciated most was seeing the character development for Leia and understanding her motivations. It was also great fun to see favorite characters again in new adventures. While I think Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy is better at character development and world building and definitely more original, I enjoyed this little space adventure. I look forward to seeing what else Martha Wells does with the world of Star Wars.

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

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review: A Question of Honor

A Question of Honor
By Charles Todd
Published: August 27, 2013

In the latest mystery from New York Times bestselling author Charles Todd, World War I nurse and amateur sleuth Bess Crawford investigates an old murder that occurred during her childhood in India, a search for the truth that will transform her and leave her pondering a troubling question: How can facts lie?

Bess Crawford enjoyed a wondrous childhood in India, where her father, a colonel in the British Army, was stationed on the Northwest Frontier. But an unforgettable incident darkened that happy time. In 1908, Colonel Crawford's regiment discovered that it had a murderer in its ranks, an officer who killed five people in India and England yet was never brought to trial. In the eyes of many of these soldiers, men defined by honor and duty, the crime was a stain on the regiment's reputation and on the good name of Bess's father, the Colonel Sahib, who had trained the killer.

A decade later, tending to the wounded on the battlefields of France during World War I, Bess learns from a dying Indian sergeant that the supposed murderer, Lieutenant Wade, is alive—and serving at the Front. Bess cannot believe the shocking news. According to reliable reports, Wade's body had been seen deep in the Khyber Pass, where he had died trying to reach Afghanistan. Soon, though, her mind is racing. How had he escaped from India? What had driven a good man to murder in cold blood?

Wanting answers, she uses her leave to investigate. In the village where the first three killings took place, she discovers that the locals are certain that the British soldier was innocent. Yet the present owner of the house where the crime was committed believes otherwise, and is convinced that Bess's father helped Wade flee. To settle the matter once and for all, Bess sets out to find Wade and let the courts decide.

But when she stumbles on the horrific truth, something that even the famous writer Rudyard Kipling had kept secret all his life, she is shaken to her very core. The facts will damn Wade even as they reveal a brutal reality, a reality that could have been her own fate.

My review:

I wanted to read this book because it is partially set in India and it involved a murder mystery. I hadn't read any of the other Bess Crawford mysteries (this is book five in the series) but I did not feel lost and there weren't really any spoilers for the mysteries in earlier books.

The story starts out when Bess is a young teen in India and we are introduced to her family's life there and to the officers like Lieutenant Wade. Another officer's young daughter dies in England and Lieutenant Wade accompanies the girl's mother on her voyage back to England since her husband can't take leave. This sets into motion the chain of events that leads to the murder accusations against Wade who flees and is believed to be dead.

Years later while Bess is serving as a nurse in WWI, she hears that Wade may still be alive. Because the incident troubled her father so much she decides to investigate secretly in case nothing comes of it. With the help of Simon, a family friend, Bess visits the village where Wade is supposed to have killed a family. 

The story is really interesting because it involves historical details about the lives of children who boarded with families in England while their parents were in India. I read A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett when I was a child and that book touches on this topic a little bit too. 

I liked how intelligent and brave Bess is though she is usually charging headlong into potential danger with her sleuthing skills. She has a very supportive family and friend in Simon and she is not belittled by them for wanting to get to the truth. 

There were times when the other details of war life made me impatient for Bess to get back to her investigations but mostly I though the plot proceeded at a decent pace. It is a historical mystery as opposed to a historical thriller after all. I appreciated the picture of what war time nursing was like as well. It reminded me of Season Two of Downton Abbey at times. 

Overall I found A Question of Honor to be a satisfying mystery. While it would have been nice if more time had been spent in India or if the book had included the culture rather than focusing on the British but I didn't mind that much. The murder mystery wasn't easy to solve. There were many suspects including Wade who could be the killer and I really had no idea who it was until it was revealed.

I would suggest this book to those who enjoy historical fiction and mystery. Fans of Susan Elia MacNeal should take note. Although her Maggie Hope mysteries are a more suspenseful in tone and faster paced (and include real historical figures) I think readers would like the similarities with the strong intelligent heroines solving the mystery. I will definitely be checking out the rest of this series.

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

Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: Where the Stars Still Shine

Where the Stars Still Shine
By Trish Doller
Published: September 24, 2013

Stolen as a child from her large and loving family, and on the run with her mom for more than ten years, Callie has only the barest idea of what normal life might be like. She's never had a home, never gone to school, and has gotten most of her meals from laundromat vending machines. Her dreams are haunted by memories she’d like to forget completely. But when Callie’s mom is finally arrested for kidnapping her, and Callie’s real dad whisks her back to what would have been her life, in a small town in Florida, Callie must find a way to leave the past behind. She must learn to be part of a family. And she must believe that love--even with someone who seems an improbable choice--is more than just a possibility.

Trish Doller writes incredibly real teens, and this searing story of love, betrayal, and how not to lose your mind will resonate with readers who want their stories gritty and utterly true.

My review:

Where the Stars Still Shine reminded me a little bit of Dare You To by Katie McGarry because both protagonists come from difficult home lives but are protective of their messed up mothers. Callie finds it incredibly hard to adjust to living with her dad and yet in flashbacks we see just how bad things were with her mom. In their twisted and dysfunctional relationship, Callie both took care of her mom and was at her mother's mercy. They moved around a lot and she really struggled to survive but there were some good memories with her mom too. There is one really really dark memory however that makes it hard as a reader to feel any kind of sympathy for Callie's mom at all.

As a main character Callie isn't always easy to like. She makes some really bad decisions, doesn't respect her dad, and she is really quick to hook up with guys. This is understandable though because of her messed up childhood. She has to learn what is considered normal in family relationships and she has to learn to value herself. It was good to see Callie grow as a character and begin to heal.

Callie's Greek family is wonderful. They really welcome Callie and try to help her even when she is being difficult. Her cousin Kat extends the hand of friendship so many times even when Callie treats her like crap and even her step-mother Phoebe reaches out to her even though she has some reservations. I liked how close knit the family and community are. The secondary characters were well developed and I think really added to the story.

Callie's love interest is Alex, a young man who I wasn't a fan of at first but he won me over by his kindness to Callie. Their relationship is initially based on lust but evolves into genuine friendship and caring. Both of them have family issues and they help each other work through that. The scene where she finally tells him what happened to her was particularly touching.

I really felt for Callie and all the bad things she went through. It was hard and disturbing to read about her past but it was wonderful to see her begin to trust again and dream of a better life. Trish Doller writes in a way that really makes you understand Callie's emotions. I really cared about not just Callie but Kat and Callie's family as well. 

Overall I thought this was a really good YA contemporary novel that takes a hard look at abuse and complicated family relationships. I think this book may be more suited to mature teens due to the semi-graphic depictions of abuse as well as the sexual content but for those who are able to handle it, it is a story well worth reading. 

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

Sunday, September 22, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (156)

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.

This week is Banned Books Week and I put together a display at my library. I was really surprised at some of the books that were on the banned and challenged list and the reasons they were challenged. Books such as A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein (it promotes cannibalism, Satanism, and suicide, and teaches kids to break dishes so they don't have to wash them!) and Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (teaches kids to lie, spy, and talk back!). I read both of those books as a kid. I did not become a spy and while I have broken dishes, it was only on accident, not because I didn't want to wash them...

Sadly people continue to challenge books and try to get them banned from school and public libraries. One of my favorite books of 2013, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell is currently being challenged in Minnesota. Hopefully this will just encourage more teens to read it!

Books reviewed:

Love Overdue by Pamela Morsi
The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan
The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

Books read:

Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands by Susan Carol McCarthy

I thought this novel was fantastic! I didn't really know anything about the race crimes that were happening in Florida in the late 40s/early 50s so I learned a lot from reading it. It was really neat to find out that the author's father helped the FBI bring the criminals to justice.

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

I liked this book but I did have some issues with it. The novel examines what life is like for people who are gay or transgender in Iran.

United We Spy by Ally Carter

I was sad to see this series come to an end but it was a great finish. I can't wait to read whatever she writes next.

Her Perfect Earl by Beth Pattillo

This was a quick and mostly enjoyable read. Nothing too out of the ordinary and reminded me a little of The Sound of Music at times (without the singing).

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

This is another good book group book. Something about it reminded me of A Prayer for Owen Meany. It is both a coming of age story and somewhat of a murder mystery.

When Summer Comes by Brenda Novak

I saw this book sometime ago in an Amazon Vine newsletter and I was interested in the story. When I saw that it was available as an e-book from the library, I had to check it out.  The heroine is dying of liver disease (she won't survive the summer without a liver transplant) but hasn't told anyone and the hero is running from his past. I really enjoyed this one and plan to check out the rest of the series.

Currently reading:

The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas

I am so excited about this book. I have read a lot of really positive reviews. I love fantasy and I hope this will be the start to a great YA fantasy series!

What I plan to read next:

This book is set about 10 years after the events of the Thrawn trilogy (which I love so much). I can't believe I am just now getting around to reading it but better late than never.

I think this is going to be a cute book. I love the cover anyway but I've also read good reviews. I'm hoping for a good romance and family story.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

This book looks pretty quirky and fun and I think it is a bestseller overseas. I hope it will live up to my expectations.

Witchstruck by Victoria Lamb

I really really prefer the UK cover to this one. Their cover has more of a historical fiction feel and this one looks more like a fantasy. The novel is actually historical fantasy set during Tudor times. I love Tudor history and fantasy so I am looking forward to this one.

Teatime for the Firefly by Shona Patel

This book is set in India in the 1940s and takes place on a tea plantation. I read an excerpt of how Layla meets her love interest and I really enjoyed it. I have a feeling I will like the author's writing style.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Review: The Light in the Ruins

The Light in the Ruins
By Chris Bohjalian
Published: July 9, 2013

From the New York Times bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls comes a spellbinding novel of love, despair, and revenge—set in war-ravaged Tuscany.

1943: Tucked away in the idyllic hills south of Florence, the Rosatis, an Italian family of noble lineage, believe that the walls of their ancient villa will keep them safe from the war raging across Europe. Eighteen-year-old Cristina spends her days swimming in the pool, playing with her young niece and nephew, and wandering aimlessly amid the estate’s gardens and olive groves. But when two soldiers, a German and an Italian, arrive at the villa asking to see an ancient Etruscan burial site, the Rosatis’ bucolic tranquility is shattered. A young German lieutenant begins to court Cristina, the Nazis descend upon the estate demanding hospitality, and what was once their sanctuary becomes their prison.

1955: Serafina Bettini, an investigator with the Florence police department, has her own demons. A beautiful woman, Serafina carefully hides her scars along with her haunting memories of the war. But when she is assigned to a gruesome new case—a serial killer targeting the Rosatis, murdering the remnants of the family one-by-one in cold blood—Serafina finds herself digging into a past that involves both the victims and her own tragic history.

Set against an exquisitely rendered Italian countryside, The Light in the Ruins unveils a breathtaking story of moral paradox, human frailty, and the mysterious ways of the heart.

My review:

I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up this book. I was intrigued by the setting and the idea of a serial killer. When I started reading, my attention was grabbed from the beginning with the killer contemplating the murder of his first victim.

The Light in the Ruins is far more than a murder mystery however. It is also a look at two different women who have suffered so much, how their lives are connected, and the decisions that brought a serial killer into their midst.

Cristina Rosati comes from a privileged family and she has lived a relatively sheltered life when the Nazis arrive at her villa. The Rosatis have managed to avoid a lot of the privations suffered by the people around them and resentment grows when it appears that Cristina's father befriends the Germans and Cristina herself begins a romantic relationship with a German soldier. Cristina's brother Marco is in the Italian army fighting alongside the Nazis and her brother Vittorio grudgingly works with them at the museum. War begins to affect the Rosatis more and more.

Serafina was also a young woman during the war but unlike Cristina, she was a resistance fighter and she has the scars to prove it. In a way Serafina seems a much more vibrant character than Cristina. She hides a lot beneath the surface. She appears to be tough and she has to be as a woman doing what is still considered a man's job but underneath, she is still struggling with the past.

I enjoyed the history and the parts set during the war but I also liked the sections of the story set in the 50s with Serafina investigating the murders. It isn't often that I find dual story lines equally compelling and as an added plus, I didn't figure out who the killer was. While the murder mystery drives the action of the plot, the book also explores some difficult questions about ethics and choices we make as well as the way that the past continues to affect us. It asks readers to consider the idea that sometimes there are gray areas, especially in war. 

I've read The Buffalo Soldier (the only other book I've read by Bohjalian) but this book is nothing like that one except in terms of quality. The author combines historical detail with suspense and complex characters. I think The Light in the Ruins would appeal to readers who appreciate mysteries as well as historical fiction. It would make a good choice for book discussion groups as well. 

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

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Review: The Engagements

The Engagements
By J. Courtney Sullivan
Published: June 11, 2013

From the New York Times best-selling author of Commencement and Maine comes a gorgeous, sprawling novel about marriage—about those who marry in a white heat of passion, those who marry for partnership and comfort, and those who live together, love each other, and have absolutely no intention of ruining it all with a wedding.

Evelyn has been married to her husband for forty years—forty years since he slipped off her first wedding ring and put his own in its place. Delphine has seen both sides of love—the ecstatic, glorious highs of seduction, and the bitter, spiteful fury that descends when it’s over. James, a paramedic who works the night shift, knows his wife’s family thinks she could have done better; while Kate, partnered with Dan for a decade, has seen every kind of wedding—beach weddings, backyard weddings, castle weddings—and has vowed never, ever, to have one of her own. 

As these lives and marriages unfold in surprising ways, we meet Frances Gerety, a young advertising copywriter in 1947. Frances is working on the De Beers campaign and she needs a signature line, so, one night before bed, she scribbles a phrase on a scrap of paper: “A Diamond Is Forever.” And that line changes everything.

A rich, layered, exhilarating novel spanning nearly a hundred years, The Engagements captures four wholly unique marriages, while tracing the story of diamonds in America, and the way—for better or for worse—these glittering stones have come to symbolize our deepest hopes for everlasting love.

My review:

The Engagements is a novel of interconnected stories. The book starts out with the true story of Frances Gerety, her career in advertising, and how she came up with "A Diamond is Forever". I enjoyed reading about Frances and the challenges she faced as a woman in what was very much a man's world. I also enjoyed the sections about Evelyn. Her love story with her first husband was touching. Delphine's story is interesting too though I do not agree with some of her choices. 

Kate is one of those characters who leaves the big city to have a very simple and organic life in the country. I liked her though she occasionally got on my nerves. I did admire her for sticking to her own guns in the face of family criticism. The one character more difficult to like is James but I even managed to find some sympathy for him as the book went along.

I wasn't sure how it would work to have a book with so many different stories but it flowed really well. I think using a ring as a way to connect the various stories was an inspired idea. I thought the characters seemed to be well developed too especially for the way the stories are told. Usually with a short story that is one of my criticisms but I didn't find that to be the case. It felt like we got to know the characters pretty well by the end of the book. 

The stories take a look at the concepts that we have of marriage, relationships, and what constitutes success. The diamond is a symbol that is used in different ways to express that. For Kate, diamonds represent violence and war as well as capitulating to society's expectations for a relationship. For Evelyn, a diamond is a reminder of lost love and new beginnings. For James, the diamond represents his failures as well as his hopes and ambitions to give his wife the life she deserves. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book and its exploration of marriage, relationships, and dreams. 

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

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Top Ten Books on My Fall 2013 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 Fall 2013 TBR List"

The books I'm most excited about are The House of Hades (published in October) and United We Spy (released today). I love these book covers and I can't help but notice that there is a lot of red...

The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

United We Spy by Ally Carter

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

The Fiery Heart by Richelle Mead

Crash Into You by Katie McGarry

The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria by Lauren Willig

What books are on your top ten to read this fall?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Review: Love Overdue

Love Overdue
By Pamela Morsi
Published: August 27, 2013

Meet Dorothy Jarrod: devotedly unsexy librarian 

Buttoned-up book lover DJ is all sensible shoes, drab skirts and studious glasses. After an ill-advised spring-break-fueled fling left her mortified, she's committed to her prim and proper look. When she's hired by a rural library in middle-of-nowhere Kansas, she finally has the lifestyle to match-and she can't wait to get her admin on. 

But it's clear from day one that the small-town library is more interested in circulating rumors than books. DJ has to organize her unloved library, win over oddball employees and avoid her flamboyant landlady's attempts to set her up with the town pharmacist. Especially that last part-because it turns out handsome Scott Sanderson is her old vacation fling! She is not sure whether to be relieved or offended when he doesn't seem to recognize her. But with every meeting, DJ finds herself secretly wondering what it would be like to take off her glasses, unpin her bun and reveal the inner vixen she's been hiding from everyone-including herself.

My review:

I like contemporary romance and because this one features a librarian, I decided to give it a try. While the description plays up some of the stereotypes about librarians, I think the depictions of working in a small town library are believable. 

DJ is still trying to live down the mistake of a drunken one night stand-the only time she's strayed from her straight laced existence. As an antidote for what she considers a serious lapse in judgment, she has become the stereotypical dowdily dressed librarian. Unluckily for her, her new job happens to be in the same small town where her partner in indiscretion happens to live. He is now a divorced and respectable pharmacist, considered to be quite a catch in his small town. To make matters worse, his mother Vivian who is DJ's landlord, is trying her best to push them together.

 It takes DJ and Scott some time to warm up to each other. DJ is frosty towards Scott but he doesn't even recognize her as the hot temptress from years ago he's never been able to forget. Both DJ and Scott have some issues to work through. Scott is dealing with a painful divorce and the loss of his dad while DJ is trying to fit into her new job and handle strife and heal from her own losses. It is nice to see Scott come to care about DJ as herself and DJ really starts to bloom and let down the walls she has put up around her heart.

I thought Love Overdue was a fun romance set in a small town with quirky characters. The only disappointment to me was the ending. Everything in the story builds up to this dramatic point that just fails to materialize and the story jumps ahead to a happy epilogue scene instead. Still I really liked the setting and the characters and the details about library work in a small town environment. It has humor and some touching moments as well. If you like lighthearted contemporary romance set in small towns with quirky characters then consider giving this book a try.

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