Thursday, January 30, 2014

Review: Manor of Secrets

Manor of Secrets
By Katherine Longshore
Published: January 28, 2014

My review:

Lady Charlotte has not yet had her debut season but she is bored with the life she is expected to lead. She longs for adventure and wants to be an author. Unfortunately her mother has other plans and expects Charlotte to secure a marriage proposal from Lord Andrew Broadhurst before the season begins. Janie is a kitchen maid working for Charlotte's family along with her mother who is the cook. Janie knows her place but she has dreams too. Charlotte and Janie's paths cross when she catches Janie dipping her toes in the lake and Charlotte wishes she could have that kind of freedom. A friendship between a kitchen maid and a lady would be forbidden especially by Charlotte's strict mother, Lady Diane but that doesn't stop Charlotte. Then Charlotte's scandalous aunt arrives throwing everything into turmoil.

Manor of Secrets is a little different from the other teen historical fiction set during this time period. While there is that upstairs/downstairs divide, the focus of the novel is on the growing friendship between Charlotte and Janie. The characters seem more innocent and younger too. 

Charlotte's naivete can be frustrating. She behaves like a much younger girl at times and she seems to live in a dreamworld. Charlotte is kind to Janie though she doesn't realize it when she puts Janie in a difficult place by asking her to come upstairs to help her though Janie is a kitchen maid. Charlotte also has unrealistic expectations of romance. Although Charlotte is initially annoying, she grows through her friendship with Janie as the story progresses. She is well meaning and she is lonely having never had her mother's love or pride. 

Janie on the other hand is more of a realist. She has experienced hardship and is not keen to do anything that would cost her a job since she has only recently been reunited with her mother. Although Janie has the opportunity for romance she knows that she'd be fired if she pursued it. Janie is a more sympathetic character and even though Charlotte endangers her job, she is still willing to try to help her because she understands Charlotte's loneliness.

Manor of Secrets does not have quite the same gossipy feel as other Edwardian/Downton Abbey inspired fiction. It takes a look at family relationships, dreams, and the roles of women during that time period. Although the secret is easy to guess, it may not detract from the reading experience as the book is more about the characters' relationships and friendships than solving a mystery.  

I have heard that this author's Tudor fiction is excellent which may be why Manor of Secrets did not quite meet my expectations. The novel has its flaws but it would be a good pick for those who enjoyed Leila Rasheed's Cinders and Sapphires or T.J. Brown's Summerset Abbey. Those readers looking for a little more soapiness or substance should check out The Luxe series by Anna Godbersen. 

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

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Top Ten Characters I Wouldn't Trade Places With

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 Characters I Wouldn't Want to Trade Places With".

1. Eddard Stark from the A Song of Ice and Fire saga by George R.R. Martin

Eddard Stark is an honorable man and while I admired his strength of character he didn't have what it took to play the game of thrones and he was easily outmaneuvered by the crooked politicos of Westeros. Poor Ned. Besides who would want to live in Westeros? Winter is coming...

2. Frodo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

While I would love to live at Bag End (I'm almost short enough to fit right in with the folks of the Shire) and I'd love to visit the elves at Rivendell, I would not want to travel to Mount Doom or be controlled by a ring or have anything to do with the creature known as Gollum...

3. Harry Potter from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

It may be fun to be a wizard and go to Hogwarts but Harry certainly had his share of misery, first losing his parents and being raised by the vile Dursleys and then having to avoid being killed many times by Lord Voldemort. Not fun at all. I'd rather trade places with  Hermione :)

4. Charlotte Lucas Collins from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Poor Charlotte is from a time when women had few choices in life. As a "spinster" at the ripe old age of 27 or 28, Charlotte jumped at the chance to marry Mr. Collins, the clergyman who would one day inherit Longbourn. What makes her situation especially deplorable is the fact that Mr. Collins is an annoying toady and she also had to put up with regular visits with Lady Catherine De Burgh...I'd be surprised she didn't hurl herself from the roof of Rosings Park...

5. Robb Stark from the  A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin

Red Wedding. Enough said.

He is kind of cute though...I've heard he is going to be the Prince in the new Cinderella movie...

6. Mary Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I am probably more like Mary than the other Bennet sisters but only because I can play the piano, am a terrible singer, and I am plain and socially awkward.  Mary however also liked to read sermons and recite moral platitudes. Poor Mary was looked down upon by her family and society and I wish Jane Austen had given Mary a hopeful ending in P&P. Maybe that's why I like reading all those novelizations about her that give her a happy ending.

7. Tris Prior from the Divergent series by Veronica Roth

One reason I wouldn't want to be Tris: I know what happens in Allegiant. Another reason I wouldn't want to be Tris: she is forced to kill someone she cares about. A third reason I wouldn't want to be Tris: she can be annoying. A fourth reason I wouldn't want to trade places with Tris: She lives in a stupid world with stupid factions.

8. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games

I'd like to think that if my little sister was selected to be in the Games, I'd trade places with her in a heartbeat. Of course she would stand a much better chance of survival than me since she works out all the time. She may be tiny but she is incredibly strong...

While I wouldn't mind being as tough or talented as Katniss, I wouldn't want to be Katniss or live in that bleak and hopeless world. I can't imagine anyone would...

9. Juliet from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

I'm not into the whole romantic suicide thing. Plus Romeo is definitely not worth killing oneself for. Poor Juliet. She deserved so much better...

10. Bella from the Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer

Hmm. An angsty love triangle with a vampire and werewolf? No thank you. Especially no to drinking blood or being hunted by vampires or kissing or being romantic with someone who is like a frozen marble statue. Of course I'd have more of a personality than Bella and I'd choose family over living forever with a vampire so Charlie would win out...

Monday, January 27, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (170)

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 past week was a little rough for me. I was in a minor (but scary) car accident on Saturday. I wasn't hurt and hopefully the damage to my car is minor. I only found a small hole on the back bumper so maybe that is it. I hate winter! The road I take to work is very hilly and I lost control of my car even though I was driving slowly :(

I also forgot that my 4th Blogoversary was on Wednesday. Hard to believe that I have kept my blog going this long...

Books reviewed:

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

Books read:

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

I liked this book and I found the real historical events and figures to be interesting but it was the fictional character of Handful that really made the book as good as it was.

Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott

Having read The Promise of Stardust I thought this book would be a lot like that one but it wasn't. It really focuses on the main character's grief and feelings about her mom and the baby and her step-dad. 

Currently reading:

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

I wanted something lighthearted to read and I thought this book would fit the bill. I loved Eleanor and Park and Fangirl but I have a feeling this one will not receive the same rave reviews from me. It is funny though but I don't like the e-mail storytelling device.

While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell

I featured this as my WoW pick last week and I was very excited to be approved for the ARC. I really like the story so far. I am curious about how the Sleeping Beauty story will play out in this version.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday (132)

"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:

While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell
Release date: February 20, 2014


Historical fiction at its best — The Brothers Grimm meets The Thirteenth Tale 
I am not the sort of person about whom stories are told.

And so begins Elise Dalriss’s story. When she hears her great-granddaughter recount a minstrel’s tale about a beautiful princess asleep in a tower, it pushes open a door to the past, a door Elise has long kept locked. For Elise was the companion to the real princess who slumbered—and she is the only one left who knows what actually happened so many years ago. Her story unveils a labyrinth where secrets connect to an inconceivable evil. As only Elise understands all too well, the truth is no fairy tale.
I want to read this because I love the idea of the Sleeping Beauty story written like it is historical fiction and from the view point of a servant.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Review: Lost Lake

Lost Lake
By Sarah Addison Allen
Published: January 21, 2014

My review:

Kate Pheris has spent the past year drowning in grief in the wake of her husband's death. In the meantime her controlling and elitist mother-in-law Cricket has taken charge of Kate and her young daughter Devin's lives. On the day that she is supposed to move in with Cricket, Kate "wakes up" and realizes that she has given Cricket control for too long. When Devin finds a postcard from Kate's great aunt Eby, Kate remembers her childhood summer at Lost Lake and on a whim she and Devin decide to visit. Eby in the meantime has made the difficult decision to sell Lost Lake as there are only a few remaining loyal vacationers. Now Kate, Devin, Eby, and her guests converge for one last magical summer at Lost Lake.

Like Sarah Addison Allen's other novels, Lost Lake combines the charm of the South with some elements of magic, quirky characters, and a strong sense of place and Lost Lake itself becomes a character. She manages to keep the formula fresh with engaging characters, particularly Eby, Kate, and Devin. The magical elements include an alligator that only Devin seems to see, a ghost in the kitchen and love charms that one of the secondary characters uses to catch her husbands. The novel mostly stays grounded in reality with a focus on the friendships and family relationships of the characters. 

Lost Lake delves into grief and loss and how people handle it as well as learning to move on. The women in Kate's family have a history of falling into grief and letting it consume them while Lisette, Eby's mute friend and employee continues to see the ghost of a past love and it keeps her from pursuing a chance at new love. Wes, a childhood friend of Kate's, deals with the grief of losing his father and brother and not having family in his life. 

In spite of some darker themes, the novel maintains a light touch and warm tone that invites the reader into the lives of the characters.  It may not tread new ground but it is a pleasant book to read in an afternoon. Readers who enjoy Southern fiction and stories of women's friendships with a little romance will find Lost Lake and its characters appealing.

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

Sunday, January 19, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (169)

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.

Tomorrow is the first day of the adult winter reading program at my library. Last year is the first time we tried Blind Date With a Book and it was very successful so we are doing it again this year. I've got the first batch of books wrapped and ready to go so I just have to set up the display and decorate it. While I was selecting books to wrap up, I found so many that I wanted to take home and read myself! I've got a lot of review books to read though so for now I am going to work on my TBR pile. :)

Books reviewed:

Going Rogue by Robin Benway

Books read:

Me Since You by Laura Wiess

This was a sad story about depression and loss but I thought it was pretty good. I wasn't expecting some of the tragedy that took place but I guess it is sort of hinted at in the book description and I just didn't pick up on it.

Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg

I really enjoyed this book. It has been promoted as "When Harry Met Sally for teens" and I think that kind of works. 

Currently reading:

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

I just started reading this and I like it so far. I listened to an audio book excerpt and thought the narrator was excellent so I put myself on the waiting list for the audio book at the library too.

What I plan to read next:

Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott

I just read The Promise of Stardust last week and this one also features a pregnant woman on life support to keep her baby alive (the mom of the main character). I can't help but think of the current court case going on in Texas. 

Uninvited by Sophie Jordan

I have seen some positive reviews of Uninvited and hopefully I will like it too. It has been compared to Minority Report with elements of The Scarlet Letter. The main character's life falls apart when she is marked as someone with the potential to murder.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Review: Going Rogue

Going Rogue
By Robin Benway
Published: January 14, 2014

My review:

Going Rogue is the sequel to Also Known As. In the last novel, teen spy Maggie and her parents moved to New York for their next mission and Maggie fell in love with her assignment, Jesse and found a best friend in Roux. Maggie finally has a chance at normal high school life though she is feeling kind of bored but things become complicated quickly when her parents are accused of a major theft by the Collective. It is up to Maggie to prove her parents are innocent but she doesn't know who she can trust and she is afraid that her friends and family may be hurt in the process.

Going Rogue is more action packed than Also Known As since the story moves away from high school and involves more spy work. The stakes are higher as Maggie and her loved ones come under fire and there may be turned spies involved. Maggie continues to grow as she thinks about the consequences of her actions and their effects on her friends and family. She also has to learn to trust her friends and trust herself. Maggie has a supportive family which is nice to see in teen fiction where adults are often sidelined or cast in the role of absentee or poor parents (like Roux's family and Jesse's father). Her friends Jesse and Roux are well developed too and continue to show growth as well.

Going Rogue is an entertaining mix of humor and suspense that would appeal to fans of Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls and Heist Society series. It is a little more mature than those series in terms of some language and underage alcohol consumption. Overall this book is perhaps stronger than the first in the series because it has more spy intrigue as well as the character development. Although this book is not set in high school like Also Known As, teens will be able to relate with Maggie's struggles in her friendships and relationships as well as figuring out who she is and what her purpose is.

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

Monday, January 13, 2014

Bout of Books 9.0 Wrap Up

Bout of Books

I was a little worried that I wouldn't reach my goal of reading at least 5 books but I managed to finish a couple of books over the weekend. I even wrote some reviews for a few of the books I read. I think this read-a-thon definitely helped me get my reading on track for the month and I definitely plan to participate in the next Bout of Books read-a-thon in May.

Here is what I read:

Waking Kate by Sarah Addison Allen (prequel novella to Lost Lake)
The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle
Going Rogue by Robin Benway
The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley
Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen
Alienated by Melissa Landers

Books that didn't quite work:

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
(It is currently on my DNF pile. I knew I should have purchased A Street Cat Named Bob instead!)

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
(I liked what I read of it but I wasn't really in the mood for nonfiction. I will pick it up again later.)

Favorite book:

My favorite book from the read-a-thon was The Promise of Stardust. I'm glad I finally got the chance to read it. I also really enjoyed Alienated. I think all of the books I completed were great selections for the read-a-thon because they kept my interest and were quick reads.

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (168)

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 past week was the Bout of Books read-a-thon and I signed up to participate so I could jump start my reading for the year. I read 6 books (one was a novella) and I even managed to write reviews for a few of the books I read that will post later this month.

Books reviewed:

Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill

Books read:

Waking Kate by Sarah Addison Allen

This is a prequel novella to Lost Lake but you don't have to read it first. It does give some insight into Kate's relationship with her husband.

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle

I have read one other Mary Bennet book (the one by Colleen McCullough) and I thought this was better. She is the Bennet sister that I can relate to most (though I am not so religiously devout-I'd never read theological books if I could read novels instead). I know I used to act "holier than thou" when I was a teen. Thankfully Mary grows out of it (and so did I) and I enjoyed seeing her get a chance for a happy ending. Too bad Jane Austen didn't really give her much room to grow in the original.

Going Rogue by Robin Benway

This was a fun teen spy book which I liked more than the first in the series. I believe my review is going up later this week.

The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley

I loved this book. Definitely need to keep the Kleenex on hand. I have heard comparisons to Jodi Picoult but I would have to say that I like this more than any of her books I've read.

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

Enjoyable Southern fiction with just a little bit of magic. I liked the friendships and family relationships in this one.

Alienated by Melissa Landers

I loved this teen science fiction debut. It was a creative idea to have a foreign exchange student scenario with an alien teen. Humor, romance, suspense, and some food for thought concerning prejudice, the environment, etc. Not quite 5 stars but close...

Currently reading:

Love Water Memory by Jennie Shortridge

What I might read next:

Me Since You by Laura Wiess

Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Bout of Books 9.0 Update 2

Bout of Books

So now that there are only a couple days left of the read-a-thon I am starting to worry that I won't reach my goal of reading at least 5 books. So far I have read 3 books but one of those is a novella.

Since my last update, I have read:

Going Rogue by Robin Benway

Currently I am reading:

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

I don't think I will be finishing it during the read-a-thon because I can't focus on it. Parts of it flow really well but the parts set in Allan's past are much slower paced.

The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley

I should be finishing this one today. It is a page-turner and I had to force myself to put it down or I'd probably have read well into the night.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

I am not sure I will be finishing this one this week either but I do like it. Nonfiction just takes me longer to get through.

Here are some other books I might read to meet my read-a-thon goals in the next few days. Any suggestions or recommendations for what I should read next?

The Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman
Always on My Mind by Jill Shalvis
Love Water Memory by Jennie Shortridge
Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen
Alienated by Melissa Landers

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Review: Being Sloane Jacobs

Being Sloane Jacobs
By Lauren Morrill
Published: January 7, 2014

Meet Sloane Emily Jacobs: a seriously stressed-out figure-skater from Washington, D.C., who choked during junior nationals and isn’t sure she’s ready for a comeback. What she does know is that she’d give anything to escape the mass of misery that is her life.

Now meet Sloane Devon Jacobs, a spunky ice hockey player from Philly who’s been suspended from her team for too many aggressive hip checks. Her punishment? Hockey camp, now, when she’s playing the worst she’s ever played. If she messes up? Her life will be over.

When the two Sloanes meet by chance in Montreal and decide to trade places for the summer, each girl thinks she’s the lucky one: no strangers to judge or laugh at Sloane Emily, no scouts expecting Sloane Devon to be a hero. But it didn’t occur to Sloane E. that while avoiding sequins and axels she might meet a hockey hottie—and Sloane D. never expected to run into a familiar (and very good-looking) face from home. It’s not long before the Sloanes discover that convincing people you’re someone else might be more difficult than being yourself.

My review:

Being Sloane Jacobs reminded me of Parent Trap meets The Cutting Edge in a way because it features two people swapping identities and a figure skater playing hockey while a hockey player learns to figure skate. 

Sloane Emily wants to swap places with Sloane Devon not only because she wants to avoid figure skating but also because of family drama. The idea of hiding behind Sloane Devon's hockey persona is appealing. Sloane Devon is under a lot of pressure to perform well in hockey and this camp is her last chance. Unfortunately it isn't one she can afford to take since every time she has to score a goal she has a mild panic attack. She agrees to Sloane Emily's crazy plan thinking that learning to figure skate would be a piece of cake compared to failing at hockey camp.

The girls both have to deal with rivals and find ways to hide their lack of skill. They also have to work really hard and in the process they find hidden inner strength.  While there are romantic interests for both girls thankfully this takes a backseat to their experiences at camp. By the end of the summer they have learned something new about themselves and found friendships and love.

Being Sloane Jacobs is an enjoyable contemporary YA novel. It may not be completely believable but it is a lot of fun. The characters both grow and learn valuable lessons but the story is never preachy and it is definitely entertaining. I only wish the secondary characters were as well developed as the main characters. I think this book would appeal to fans of Abby McDonald and Catherine Gilbert Murdock.

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

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Bout of Books 9.0 Update 1

Bout of Books

I didn't get much reading done on Monday but yesterday I read two books: 

Waking Kate by Sarah Addison Allen (a prequel novella to Lost Lake)
The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle

Currently I am reading:

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (this book started out really well but now things have slowed down and I put it aside to read other books)

Going Rogue by Robin Benway
(So far I am enjoying this sequel to Also Known As)

Monday, January 6, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (167)

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 has been a few weeks since I participated in this meme so I've listed a few of the books I've read since the last time. I only read two books this past week. This week I will be participating in the Bout of Books read-a-thon so hopefully I will have more time to read. The cold weather may help with that too with the temperature dropping below zero!

Books reviewed:

Diamonds and Deceit by Leila Rasheed

Books read:

Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill

This was a fun book about two girls with the same name who switch places for the summer. One is a hockey player and the other is a figure skater. The premise reminded me just a little bit of The Parent Trap meets Cutting Edge but the story was a lot more than that. My review will be up later this week.

City of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn

I really enjoyed this book though I had been a little worried considering how I felt about the heroine of her last book. Fortunately I liked this one more. The main characters even reminded me of Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane in the way they interacted with each other.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

This was my first book of 2014 and I loved it. Definitely heartbreaking and it made me think. I am curious to find out what the other book discussion group members thought about it.

Manor of Secrets by Katherine Longshore

Another Downton Abbey style book for teens but the characters in this one felt younger than in some of the others that I've read. I liked Janie the kitchen maid much more than the other protagonist, Lady Charlotte whose head is stuck in the clouds. 

Currently reading:

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

This book started out really well and I liked the dry humor but now the story has become a little bogged down in the account of Allan's early life. I am hoping the pace will pick up again.

What I plan to read next:

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle

I am not sure if I will like this book. Pride and Prejudice spin offs tend to be hit or miss and more often they miss the mark. I am intrigued by the idea of a book about Mary Bennet. I read the one by Colleen McCullough which I liked though it was a little odd.

The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley

I am excited about this book. It has a really interesting premise and may be a tearjerker. The book kind of draws comparisons to Jodi Picoult which doesn't surprise me since it is about a pregnant woman who is brain dead and the decision about whether to keep her on life support for the sake of the unborn child.

Going Rogue by Robin Benway

I am looking forward to this sequel to Also Known As. Maybe it will fill the void left by the end of the Gallagher Girls series. I could always use another humorous teen spy novel.

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

I usually love Sarah Addison Allen's books so I am looking forward to picking up Lost Lake. It will be nice to read about someplace warm too as the temperature drops into the negatives here.