Thursday, October 29, 2015

Review: Avelynn

By Marissa Campbell
Published: September 8, 2015

This dazzling debut brings the Dark Ages to light and illuminates one Saxon noblewoman's romance with a Viking warrior and her struggle to find her path in a changing and dangerous world

869. For eighteen years, Avelynn, the beautiful and secretly pagan daughter of the Ealdorman of Somerset, has lived in an environment of love, acceptance, and equality. Somerset has flourished under twenty years of peace. But with whispers of war threatening their security, Avelynn's father makes an uncompromising decision that changes her life forever.
Forced into a betrothal with Demas, a man who only covets her wealth and status, Avelynn's perception of independence is shattered. With marriage looming, she turns to her faith, searching for answers in an ancient ritual along the coast, only to find Alrik The Blood-Axe and sixty Viking berserkers have landed.
In a year of uncertainty that sees Avelynn discover hidden powers, stumble into a passionate love affair with Alrik, and lead men into battle, Avelynn must walk a fine line as her deceptions mount and Demas' tactics to possess her become more desperate and increasingly brutal.
Avelynn and Alrik are caught in the throes of fate as they struggle to find the way back to themselves and onwards to each other.

My review:

Avelynn is an intelligent and headstrong young woman who believes she has some say over her future. She uses her intelligence to help her father and her people but she realizes just what her father thinks of her when he pushes her into a betrothal with Demas. Initially she just finds him annoying but as she gets to know him she realizes what a dangerous man he actually is. 

She is a pagan as her mother raised her to be and she keeps that quiet for the sake of her life but when she travels to the coast with a trusted druid priest she is spotted by a band of Vikings. Her life is spared by Alrik and the two are instantly attracted to each other. He dares her to meet him again in a month's time. Even though he is supposed to be an enemy of her people, Avelynn is drawn to him so she persists in meeting him in spite of the danger. The novel is more than a romance however as the two have very little page time together. Alrik is busy doing his brother's bidding and Avelynn has plenty of worries of her own. 

Avelynn is a strong heroine though she doesn't always think her actions through. I liked her and the determination and courage she displays in the face of hardship and misery. She really wants to protect her people and have her own life but she is constrained by her circumstances and the time she lives in. Her best friend Ealswith is a comfort as is her younger brother Edward. She also finds a new friend in Muirgen, an elderly pagan priestess who some call a witch.

The romance between Avelynn and Alrik is very much "instalove" or perhaps "instalust" that later becomes love and I didn't completely buy into it. The physical aspects of their relationship are portrayed more than meaningful connection or development between the two of them. I would have liked more depth from the villain of the novel too but he remained pretty one dimensional aside from a few surprises. Thankfully the novel's other merits appealed to me more. 

Avelynn is a historical novel with strong romantic elements (and some steamy scenes) that might appeal to fans of authors like Philippa Gregory and Marion Zimmer Bradley. The medieval setting is strongly evoked with descriptions of daily life as well as battle scenes and pagan practices. Both the Saxon and Viking cultures are explored and there are even some elements of magic. Overall I liked the novel mainly because of the protagonist and the historical setting which I found interesting. While there are some flaws, I still found the book to be an engrossing and enjoyable read. I don't know if there is a sequel in the works though the ending leaves room for one. I certainly wouldn't mind reading more.

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

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sunday Post (26) / It's Monday, What Are You Reading

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news. A post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead. It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme now hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

I'm late in posting this week as I just got back from a weekend visit with my parents. I had planned to try out some new recipes with my mom but we didn't have much time as what should have been a simple trip to Best Buy to get them new iPhones turned into a nearly 3 hour ordeal. Thankfully after another trip to AT&T, they both have their phones. We also had time before church this morning to try a recipe for kale chips that I found in the new Trim Healthy Mama Cookbook. It turned out really well and we made two batches :)

I had a busy week at work. Tuesday night was our Pinterest craft night at the library. We made homemade soap but had to forego the sweater pumpkins as my coworker Kim was sick with the flu and the pumpkins were at her house. She is feeling better now thankfully and the program attendees loved the soap making so much they didn't seem to miss the pumpkin craft. I worked three nights this past week and this week I'll be working two nights because of programs. Tomorrow is the murder mystery dinner and on Tuesday night I have book group which is usually fun except those times I don't finish the book (which sadly has happened a few times and I'm the leader!)

Last week on my blog:

The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev (review)

What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler (review)

Books read:

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

I liked this historical fiction novel about the daughter of Jewish immigrants and her experiences growing up in Boston at the turn of the century. 

This House is Haunted by John Boyne

I thought it would be fun to read something a little spooky for our evening book discussion. This historical novel has a Gothic feel that reminded me of Jane Eyre and Rebecca a little bit. I'm curious to see how the other book group members felt about it. There isn't much in the way of character development.

Currently reading:

First & Then by Emma Mills

I like this one so far. It is not a retelling of Jane Austen though it does pay homage a little bit. 

What I might read next:

A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis

Death Wears a Mask by Ashley Weaver

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Review: What We Saw

What We Saw
By Aaron Hartzler
Published: September 22, 2015

Critically acclaimed memoirist Aaron Hartzler, author of Rapture Practice, takes an unflinching look at what happens to a small town when some of its residents commit a terrible crime. This honest, authentic debut novel—inspired by the events in the Steubenville rape case—will resonate with readers who've ever walked that razor-thin line between guilt and innocence that so often gets blurred, one hundred and forty characters at a time.
The party at John Doone's last Saturday night is a bit of a blur. Kate Weston can piece together most of the details: Stacey Stallard handing her shots, Ben Cody taking her keys and getting her home early. . . . But when a picture of Stacey passed out over Deacon Mills's shoulder appears online the next morning, Kate suspects she doesn't have all the details. When Stacey levels charges against four of Kate's classmates, the whole town erupts into controversy. Facts that can't be ignored begin to surface, and every answer Kate finds leads back to the same questions: Who witnessed what happened to Stacey? And what responsibility do they have to speak up about what they saw?
National Book Award finalist Deb Caletti calls What We Saw "a smart, sensitive, and gripping story about the courage it takes to do what's right."

My review:

Kate Weston is leading a happy life full of possibilities. She has a great group of friends, she loves being on her high school's soccer team and Ben Cody, her childhood friend turned teenage crush seems to have noticed her too. They even share a moment on the night of basketball star John Doone's party before he takes her home since she had a little too much to drink. She wakes up the next day and sees a picture of herself doing shots with Stacey Stallard and feels embarrassed that she got so out of hand. She later sees another picture of Stacey passed out with the guys but doesn't think much of it. She is preoccupied with Ben and the very real possibility of a relationship with him. 

When Stacey doesn't show up at school and people are talking trash about her, Kate starts to suspect that something else happened. She is grateful that she wasn't at the party and that Ben left too...but she can't help but wonder if he is hiding what he knows about his friends. The arrest of four members of the basketball team shakes the town with most people taking the boys' side. Kate becomes obsessed with finding out the truth even if it costs her everything she loves.

What We Saw is a shocking and realistic novel inspired by true events. Stacey may be central to the plot but it is really Kate, her classmates and the school administration that are at the center of the novel. Initially Kate goes along with her friends' and parents' wishes to not rock the boat and keep out of things but she can't help but remember that Stacey Stallard was once her friend or the fact that she too was drunk at that party but someone took her home. While Kate feels sorry for Stacey (it seems like she is the only member of her community who does), it takes her awhile to get to the point that she is willing to go against the flow and pursue justice for Stacey.

On her quest for the truth, she does make some questionable choices. I think she became a little too obsessed with Stacey and the events of the party. Instead of respecting her as a person who is hurting and might want privacy, Kate behaves more like a tactless reporter going after a story or a gawker at an accident scene. She does realize her mistakes and I think she had her heart in the right place however. Kate transforms gradually from the carefree and happy teen at the beginning of the novel to one is more sensitive to the treatment of women and girls by those around her. She even chastises her younger brother for being a basketball groupie and mimicking things he doesn't understand like retweeting #R and P (rape and pillage--they are the "Buccaneers") or rating his female classmates' looks on Facebook. 

I believe this is an important and timely story to tell and the author succeeds in portraying a town and school where sports and community spirit are so important that they trump justice. The book discusses rape culture, the objectification of women and double standards. What We Saw would be a good companion novel to All the Rage by Courtney Summers.

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Review: Bollywood Bride

The Bollywood Bride
By Sonali Dev
Published: September 29, 2015

Ria Parkar is Bollywood's favorite Ice Princess--beautiful, poised, and scandal-proof--until one impulsive act threatens to expose her destructive past. Traveling home to Chicago for her cousin's wedding offers a chance to diffuse the coming media storm and find solace in family, food, and outsized celebrations that are like one of her vibrant movies come to life. But it also means confronting Vikram Jathar. 

Ria and Vikram spent childhood summers together, a world away from Ria's exclusive boarding school in Mumbai. Their friendship grew seamlessly into love--until Ria made a shattering decision. As far as Vikram is concerned, Ria sold her soul for stardom and it's taken him years to rebuild his life. But beneath his pent-up anger, their bond remains unchanged. And now, among those who know her best, Ria may find the courage to face the secrets she's been guarding for everyone else's benefit--and a chance to stop acting and start living. 

Rich with details of modern Indian-American life, here is a warm, sexy, and witty story of love, family, and the difficult choices that arise in the name of both.

My review:

Ria is known as an ice princess because she keeps everyone at arm's length whether on set or in her personal life. She has carefully crafted this persona to protect herself and keep people from prying into her life. Ria has a dark past and her career would be destroyed if it came to light. When a momentary slip leads to blackmail from a paparazzo, Ria goes home to Chicago using her cousin's wedding as an excuse. She is glad to see her family but not to be near Vikram Jathar again. Vikram is her cousin Nikhil's best friend and the three of them were friends though Nikhil doesn't know that Vikram and Ria fell in love as teens. 

Vikram is not happy to see Ria either. He has a lot of anger and hurt to deal with and makes things very hard for Ria with his cruel behavior and comments. As they are forced to be civil and spend more time together because of wedding duties, things start to thaw and old feelings begin to resurface but Ria doesn't know if she can trust Vikram and stop running from the past.

I liked Ria and felt really bad for her. She has been through a lot of horrible things both in her childhood and later on as a young adult. Ria's first instinct is to run but she does care deeply about her family especially her aunt and uncle who were like parents to her and Nikhil who was like a brother.  I had a harder time liking Vikram because of the way he treated Ria. Though I understood the reason for his anger, it took awhile to warm up to his character until he stopped being so unkind. I also didn't like how much Ria still wanted him even while he was being a jerk. It was like her hormones had no control where he was concerned.

Thankfully things got better as the story unfolded and Vikram started seeing the real Ria and not the version he was mad at. The two have great chemistry and in the end I was rooting for them to work through their issues. I also enjoyed the descriptions of food and Indian culture and the little bit of Bollywood that we got to see. The secondary characters were a lot of fun, especially the aunties. Overall I liked this contemporary romance with a Bollywood flavor. It had some good character development especially for Ria. I think readers who like contemporary romance and authors like Shobhan Bantwal and Anjali Banerjee would enjoy The Bollywood Bride.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sunday Post (25) / It's Monday, What Are You Reading

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news. A post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead. It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey and now hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

So I'm in a bit of a reading slump still I guess. I only read one book and it took me all week to get through it. That is kind of shocking considering it was a Rick Riordan book and I normally love his books and finish them in just a day or two. Now I'm starting on my book group reads for the month instead of picking up what I want to read. We meet next week and I thought I had one more week than I do! Last month I had both books read with weeks to spare.

I didn't have a very productive week at work and I'm starting to feel the stress of bad planning. I realized that I only have a week to go on my murder mystery dinner at the library and I forgot to order the background music CDs. I also still need to buy craft supplies for our Pinterest craft night this Tuesday. Oops! Somehow I know it will all get done. At least the important stuff anyway. Both programs are full and have waiting lists which is also a good sign that we are doing something right! I am considering letting more people into the craft program if I can squeeze more out of my budget. I still have a craft to plan for our holiday open house next month. Right now I'm thinking either a sock wreath or a mason jar snow globe of some sort.

One positive thing was the round table I hosted for librarians who plan programs for adults. It was nice to share what has worked and commiserate over what didn't.  I also got some good ideas like the website ConsumerCrafts (for cheaper craft supplies) and cookbook club (participants pick a recipe to try from the same cookbook and bring it to the meeting to share while discussing the cookbook) which is apparently a really popular program in Ohio libraries. I think I will try that one next year but we won't meet monthly. Three book clubs might just be too much for me to keep up with!

Last week on my blog:

The Perilous Sea by Sherry Thomas (review)

Books read:

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

I liked this book in the end but in a way it was a disappointment. It didn't live up to my high expectations I guess. Normally I find Riordan's books to be laugh out loud page turners with a good mix of humor, action and mythology. I did learn quite a bit about Norse mythology but I didn't connect with the characters like I'd hoped and it wasn't as nearly as funny as his other books. I still plan to give the next book a shot but I will check it out from the library.

Currently reading:

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

This is our afternoon book group pick. I've only read a little bit but so far I like it.

What I plan to read next:

This House is Haunted by John Boyne

I thought it would be fun to read a spooky story in our evening book group and hopefully this won't disappoint.

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

I've heard really good things about this YA historical novel and I hope to get to it soon. It has a surprising number of holds on it at the library as historical fiction usually isn't that popular with teens. (That doesn't stop me from buying it for them to read!)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Review: The Perilous Sea

The Perilous Sea
By Sherry Thomas
Published: September 16, 2014

After spending the summer away from each other, Titus and Iolanthe (still disguised as Archer Fairfax) are eager to return to Eton College to resume their training to fight the Bane. Although no longer bound to Titus by a blood oath, Iolanthe is more committed than ever to fulfilling her destiny—especially with the agents of Atlantis quickly closing in.

Soon after arriving at school, though, Titus makes a shocking discovery, one that makes him question everything he previously believed about their mission. Faced with this devastating realization, Iolanthe is forced to come to terms with her new role, while Titus must choose between following his mother's prophecies—and forging a divergent path to an unknowable future.

Sherry Thomas brings her trademark blend of dazzling magic, heartbreaking romance, and exciting action in this striking sequel to The Burning Sky.

My review:

Iolanthe (a.k.a. Fairfax) has made peace with her role as the chosen one, the prophesied elemental mage who will help overthrow the Bane. She is determined to do everything she can to save Titus as well. Iolanthe and Titus had planned to spend the summer together training and enjoying stolen moments but because Atlantis is keeping closer watch, they had to part and she returned to school early. With the new term starting, things should go back to the way they were but a trip to a friend's house by the sea changes everything when Titus sees something shocking. Could he have been wrong about his mother's prophecy?

Iolanthe and Titus have to figure out a new way forward. Are the prophecies to be obeyed to the letter? Titus has lived his life by them, arranging things to make them happen just as they appear in his mother's diary. Now Iolanthe doesn't know what to do. She is frustrated by Titus and still wants to help but she can't help feeling angry and betrayed. She loves him but their relationship has to weather this change.

It isn't often that a sequel is as good as the first book but I think The Perilous Sea may even be better than The Burning Sky. The world building is expanded upon and the characters continue to grow but the shocking twists are what keep the pages turning. In between each chapter is a chapter set in the future told from the perspective of a young man and young woman in the Sahara desert who wake up without their memories. It's obvious who they are to the reader but the characters' immediate danger and trying to figure out how they got there adds to the suspense and pacing of the story.

The secondary characters became more prominent as more was revealed about them. We also get to discover important information about the Bane which increases the stakes for the final novel. In the first book Wintervale was something of a bumbling but lovable fool but he is given more importance this time around and we find out about his backstory. I also loved learning more about Kashkari as he was my favorite of the students at Eton. The school scenes continued to be fun with cricket games and shenanigans mixing in with the mage world but the story was definitely darker. Iolanthe/Fairfax has developed some strong friendships at the school and it is sad for her as she faces leaving them soon. 

The series touches on the concept of fate and if something is seen in a prophetic vision or dream does that mean it will happen? How do you interpret what is seen? The characters struggle with this and the idea of taking action based on what is prophesied versus just letting things unfold or even forging your own path. Both Iolanthe and Titus face this crisis moment where they have to decide how they are going to proceed.

The worldbuilding continued to be excellent as new settings, characters and threats were introduced. What I like about this series is that I never felt overwhelmed by the fantasy elements. Everything just seems to flow. I also love the way the fantasy aspect is blended with the Victorian world which is more familiar. 

The novel ends with a cliffhanger that left me anxiously awaiting the final book. Overall I thought this sequel was fantastic and it really built on the events of The Burning Sky. It is an action packed story with romance, surprising twists and good character development.

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday (168)

"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:

Peas and Carrots by Tanita S. Davis
Release date: February 9, 2016

A rich and memorable story from a Coretta Scott King honor award-winning author about a teenage foster girl looking for a place to call home.
Dess knows that nothing good lasts. Disappointment is never far away, and that’s a truth that Dess has learned to live with.

Dess’s mother’s most recent arrest is just the latest in a long line of disappointments, but this one lands her with her baby brother’s foster family. Dess doesn’t exactly fit in with the Carters. They’re so happy, so comfortable, so normal, and Hope, their teenage daughter, is so hopelessly naïve. Dess and Hope couldn’t be more unlike each other, but Austin loves them both like sisters. Over time their differences, insurmountable at first, fall away to reveal two girls who want the same thing: to belong. 
Tanita S. Davis, a Coretta Scott King Honor winner, weaves a tale of two modern teenagers defying stereotypes and deciding for themselves what it means to be a family.

Normally I'm not a fan of peas and carrots only occasionally grace my plate but this book sounds good! I like how the book looks at foster care and race.

How to Be Brave by E. Katherine Kottaras
Release date: November 3, 2015

Georgia has always lived life on the sidelines: uncomfortable with her weight, awkward, never been kissed, terrified of failing.
Then her mom dies and her world is turned upside down. But instead of getting lost in her pain, she decides to enjoy life while she still can by truly living for the first time. She makes a list of ways to be brave-all the things she's always wanted to do but has been too afraid to try: learn to draw, try out for cheerleading, cut class, ask him out, kiss him, see what happens from there.

But she's about to discover that life doesn't always go according to plan. Sometimes friendships fall apart and love breaks your heart. But in the process, you realize you're stronger than you ever imagined...

This fearless, big-hearted, deeply moving book will make you laugh, cry, and inspire you to be brave.

I have high hopes for this debut after reading some very positive reviews.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sunday Post (24) / It's Monday, What Are You Reading

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news. A post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead. 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.

Kim and I by the book fountain at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

This past week I attended a library conference in Cincinnati (OLC Convention). It was nice to see some of my former colleagues and other librarians I know. Cincinnati also had some fantastic restaurants. I got to eat at a Scottish pub and a really good French bakery/cafe with excellent croissants. My friend and coworker Kim had never eaten Indian food before so I was happy to find an Indian restaurant for us to try and she loved it. We also had the opportunity to take a tour of the Cincinnati public library. Overall I had a good time and I didn't have any sinus headaches while I was there which was a real bonus.

My new friend Randy the Penguin (from Newport Aquarium) visits the OLC Exhibit Hall

Now that I'm back I need to try to get caught up on things (like cleaning) but it is hard to be motivated when I am distracted by TV. I have given up on watching Scandal. The characters became really unlikable which was a deal-breaker for me. Plus I already have so many other shows I like and I don't want to be a TV junkie! The new seasons of The Flash and Arrow started and I really liked both premiere episodes. There was a twist on Arrow and it looks like someone important is going to die this season. It better not be Felicity! Monday is the season premiere of Jane the Virgin and I can't wait for more telenovela craziness :) I started watching Quantico, a new FBI drama that stars Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra. I liked the first episode but I'm not sure if I'll continue (too much TV!). For her sake I hope the show does well and doesn't get cancelled.

Today (or maybe tomorrow) I am going to try out the homemade soap craft we are doing at our October Pinterest craft night. It involves melting shea butter soap base in the microwave and then adding soap colorant and pumpkin pie spice before pouring it into a soap mold. It says "10 minute soap" on the website but something tells me it will take more time for me to make it!

Last week on my blog:

Through Waters Deep by Sarah Sundin (review)
A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn (review)

Books read:

The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan (reread)

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams

Just like her last book I read (The Secret Life of Violet Grant), I thought the more historic storyline was more compelling than the "modern" one set in the 60s. I didn't really care for Pepper so it was really Annabelle's story that made the book work for me.

Currently reading:

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

I really like that this book doesn't have all the POVs that the Heroes of Olympus series does. I am also enjoying the return of the funny chapter titles.

What I plan to read next:

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

I wasn't planning to read this yet but it is due back soon at the library and I'm not sure I'll be able to renew it so I want to give it a try.

A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis

Mindy McGinnis was speaking at my conference but I didn't get a chance to attend her presentation. I've read an excerpt of this and it was really good so I hope I will like it though the setting creeps me out.

Ash and Bramble by Sarah Prineas

This is another library book I need to return soon. I started reading the ARC version sometime ago but it expired before I could finish.

Death Wears a Mask by Ashley Weaver

New books received:

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant (library book)

This House is Haunted by John Boyne (library book)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Review: A Curious Beginning

A Curious Beginning
By Deanna Raybourn
Published: September 1, 2015

In her thrilling new series, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries, returns once more to Victorian England…and introduces intrepid adventuress Veronica Speedwell.

London, 1887. As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own. After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

My review:

Veronica Speedwell is an intelligent and infuriatingly obstinate heroine. It takes her awhile to believe that her life is in danger even though someone broke into her home and tried to abduct her and her rescuer was later murdered in London.  She doesn't think anyone could possibly have a reason to harm her. Veronica is a would-be scientist who studies and collects butterflies. She loves to travel and has been on many expeditions and engaged in "scandalous" behavior for Victorian times. Stoker is a mysterious man who is currently employed as a taxidermist. He and Veronica immediately start off on the wrong foot with Stoker wondering if she had something to do with the death of his friend, the baron.

Veronica and Stoker slowly learn to trust each other as they go on the run, hiding out first among a carnival troupe and later in a cottage on the grounds of an estate. There are secrets about Veronica's past to be uncovered and Stoker has his own secrets including the reason his career as a naturalist took a nosedive leading to his current less than lucrative job. Who can they trust to help them? 

A Curious Beginning is an entertaining mystery with a hint of romance. Veronica is a memorable protagonist. She is pretty outspoken and opinionated for a woman at that time. Her scientific interests mark her as a "bluestocking" as well not to mention the rumors of her romantic liaisons. I liked Veronica though I did get irritated with her when she refused to comprehend that she was in danger. She does have some harebrained ideas too but I like that she can hold her own with Stoker. He is still something of a mystery and he reminded me a little of Brisbane from the Lady Julia Grey series. I think that readers who enjoyed the Lady Julia mysteries would like this series as well and fans of historical mystery in general should check it out too. 

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

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Review: Through Waters Deep

Through Waters Deep
By Sarah Sundin
Published: August 4, 2015

It is 1941 and America teeters on the brink of war. Outgoing naval officer Ensign Jim Avery escorts British convoys across the North Atlantic in a brand-new destroyer, the USS Atwood. Back on shore, Boston Navy Yard secretary Mary Stirling does her work quietly and efficiently, happy to be out of the limelight. Yet, despite her reserved nature, she never could back down from a challenge. When evidence of sabotage on the Atwood is found, Jim and Mary must work together to uncover the culprit. A bewildering maze of suspects emerges, and Mary is dismayed to find that even someone close to her is under suspicion. With the increasing pressure, Jim and Mary find that many new challenges--and dangers--await them.

Sarah Sundin takes readers to the tense months before the US entered WWII. Readers will encounter German U-boats and torpedoes, along with the explosive power of true love, in this hopeful and romantic story.

My review:

Mary Stirling is quiet and efficient and she prefers to be in the background. Growing up she was always in the shadow of her best friend Quintessa but that didn't bother Mary at all. She'd learned the hard way that it is better not to shine and call attention to herself. On the day that a new destroyer is supposed to be launched, someone sabotages a bottle of champagne, filling it with gasoline. Thankfully no one is hurt but other suspicious incidents keep happening at the shipyard. Is it the work of someone who wants the U.S. to join the war or a Nazi sympathizer? Mary decides to keep notes of everything she sees going on in case it might help the FBI. 

Jim Avery is known for floating along through life unlike his older brothers who are also in the Navy. He likes to be helpful but prefers not to be the bold, take charge type especially after a tragedy in his youth.  Jim knew Mary back home in Vermillion, Ohio where he had unrequited feelings for her best friend Quintessa. They are thrown together again when they meet in Boston while he is stationed there and they become friends as they tour the city together and later as he helps her investigate the sabotage.

Jim and Mary are both held back in life by things that happened in their childhood. Mary believes that what happened to her was because of pride so she does her best to always be humble and stay out of the spotlight. It is hard for her to go to the authorities with any evidence she finds because she is afraid that would be seen as seeking praise or boasting. She also hesitates to take part in the church choir and even in her relationship with Jim. When she develops feelings for him she thinks he couldn't possibly be interested since she is nothing like Quintessa. Jim has a hard time with being decisive which leads to some misunderstandings and complications in his relationship with Mary, who he ends up falling for. He also struggles with being a leader on board the Atwood. Thankfully he has a great mentor in Lt. Commander Durant who helps him to understand what it means to be a good leader. 

At times I was frustrated with both Mary and Jim for not going after what they want in life but at the same time I could relate in a way especially with Jim. I tend to float through life myself and sometimes miss opportunities because of it. I think both characters grow over the course of the book and they are very likable in spite of their flaws and determined to help others and serve God.

The book takes place in 1940 and 1941 before the U.S. joins the War. The time period was interesting to me because of the various beliefs that Americans had about going to war. There was racism and isolationism as well as the belief that the United States should intervene before Hitler controlled everything. The turmoil is well portrayed by what goes on at the shipyard. The author also shows great command of Navy terminology and battle scenes. At times the details slowed the pacing of the story down for me but I think it added to the setting.  Attention to detail is one of Sundin's trademarks for her historical fiction. This is the first book in the Waves of Freedom series. I think fans of Christian historical fiction and WWII stories will enjoy Through Waters Deep. I also suggest her Wings of Glory series starting with A Distant Melody.

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

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Sunday Post (23) / It's Monday, What Are You Reading

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news. A post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead. 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 was a rough week for me with sinus headaches. Yuck. I went to the doctor and got a prescription just in case it turns into a sinus infection. I am hoping it will clear up soon as I leave for a library conference on Wednesday.  I also hit a reading slump after finishing What We Saw. I just couldn't commit to reading anything. Even my current book isn't really able to hold my attention. The audio book is fun but I only listen to that in the car and it is a book I've read before. Thankfully Rick Riordan's new book will be out on Tuesday and I've preordered my copy. I usually love his books.

I am looking forward to the library conference. This year it will be in Cincinnati. I hope that I'll learn some things but also have time for fun stuff. I also hope the weather will be warmer. Today it was only in the 50's and I ended up wearing a sweater and turning on the heat in my apartment. 

Since I haven't been reading much this week I spent a lot of my free time watching TV. I started watching Scandal and am now hooked and kicking myself for not giving this show a chance years ago. Now I have some catching up to do! I also caught up on The Great British Baking Show and Once Upon a Time. I am planning to watch Home Fires tonight. It is set in WWII which is one of my favorite historical time periods and it stars Samantha Bond (Lady Rosamund from Downton Abbey). Indian Summers is on PBS tonight too. I loved the first episode. 

Last week on my blog:

After You by Jojo Moyes (review-spoilers if you haven't read Me Before You)

Books read:

What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

This book made me so angry and sad. I think it's an important book for teens to read and touches on a very timely topic. It would be a good pairing with All the Rage by Courtney Summers.

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan (reread)


Future Perfect by Jen Larsen

This book just wasn't for me. I tried but I couldn't get into it. I don't know if it is the writing style or the pacing or the characters. 

Currently reading:

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams

So far this is kind of slow going too. Maybe it will pick up once we really get into Annabelle's story.

The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan (reread)

What I plan to read next:

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

I can't wait to read this and it will hopefully be the book that breaks my reading slump. I read a very positive review of it in Booklist so that's a good sign. It will be hard to picture Thor and Loki differently from the movie versions but I'm sure the characters will not be like their Marvel counterparts!

Death Wears a Mask by Ashley Weaver

New books received:

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz (library book)

Star Wars: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray (library book)

The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas (library book)