January 11, 2018

Book Talk | Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

Book Talk | Song of the Current by Sarah TolcserSong of the Current by Sarah Tolcser
Series: Song of the Current #1
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, June 2017
Pages: 373
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Caroline Oresteia is destined for the river. For generations, her family has been called by the river god, who has guided their wherries on countless voyages throughout the Riverlands. At seventeen, Caro has spent years listening to the water, ready to meet her fate. But the river god hasn’t spoken her name yet—and if he hasn’t by now, there’s a chance he never will.

Caro decides to take her future into her own hands when her father is arrested for refusing to transport a mysterious crate. By agreeing to deliver it in exchange for his release, Caro finds herself caught in a web of politics and lies, with dangerous pirates after the cargo—an arrogant courier with a secret—and without the river god to help her. With so much at stake, Caro must choose between the life she always wanted and the one she never could have imagined for herself.

From debut author Sarah Tolcser comes an immersive and romantic fantasy set along the waterways of a magical world with a headstrong heroine determined to make her mark.

Throughout her life, Caro believed she was for the river. Her livelihood, her father’s, her grandfather’s, and generations before have depended on the river and its god. But when the river god still hasn’t spoken to her and her father’s life is in peril, Caro takes the wheel and agrees to deliver a strange cargo with one rule: don’t open it. Soon, her life is full of magic and mayhem, decisions and fate, and the chance to choose between what she thought was her life’s set path or a new, unwritten one.

  • Song of the Current is made up of a unique, magical world: magic, gods, and pirates, oh my! Instead of overwhelming the narrative, it creates a soft atmosphere that shapes each scene’s emotions perfectly.
  • Caro’s yearning to hear the river god call her represents her deep desire to fit in with the other wherrymen, to be like her father. The root of that desire is something we can all understand, something that made Caro relatable to every reader.
  • I loved how that desire to fit in is quickly pushed back as the yearning to live, to save her father, overtakes everything else and creates a unique hero that I loved cheering for.
  • Markos has some typical male hero characteristics, but he isn’t by any means a typical male hero. Why? His deep devotion to his mother and little sister creates not only a powerful motive, but an equally powerful character.
  • While I love neatly-tied endings, Song of the Current doesn’t have one, at least in the romance department. With Caro’s constantly evolving character, this couldn’t fit more perfectly.
  • Amazing fight scenes!
  • Caro’s unique family dynamic was one of the more underrated elements of the story. While she has a mother and a father, her mother lives apart and holds a stronger position in her parents’ relationship. I’m not saying we should destroy the nuclear family, but it was lovely to see a powerful mother figure.
  • The narrative did a good job of detailing Caro’s struggle between who she wanted to be and who she was turning into, but occasionally lost the thread after some of the major scenes. I had to go back and read a few times to undestand exactly what happened.


Review Snapshot:

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Perfect for:

YA fantasy fans, especially those of Sarah J. Maas and V.E. Schwab.

Posted January 11, 2018 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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January 10, 2018

Book Talk | Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist by Stephen Kurkjian

Book Talk | Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist by Stephen KurkjianMaster Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist by Stephen Kurkjian
Publisher: PublicAffairs, March 2015
Pages: 272
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The definitive story of the greatest art theft in history.

In a secret meeting in 1981, a low-level Boston thief gave career gangster Ralph Rossetti the tip of a lifetime: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was a big score waiting to happen. Though its collections included priceless artworks by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, and others, its security was cheap, mismanaged, and out of date. And now, it seemed, the whole Boston criminal underworld knew it.
Nearly a decade passed before the Museum museum was finally hit. But when it finally happened, the theft quickly became one of the most infamous art heists in history: thirteen works of art valued at up to 500 million, by some of the most famous artists in the world, were taken. The Boston FBI took control of the investigation, but twenty-five years later the case is still unsolved and the artwork is still missing.
Stephen Kurkjian, one of the top investigative reporters in the country, has been working this case for over nearly twenty years. In Master Thieves, he sheds new light on some of the Gardner's most abiding mysteries. Why would someone steal these paintings, only to leave them hidden for twenty-five years? And why, if one of the top crime bosses in the city knew about this score in 1981, did the theft happen in 1990? What happened in those intervening years? And what might all this have to do with Boston's notorious gang wars of the 1980s?

Kurkjian's reporting is already responsible for some of the biggest breaks in this story, including a meticulous reconstruction of what happened at the Museum museum that fateful night. Now Master Thieves will reveal the identities of those he believes plotted the heist, the motive for the crime, and the details that the FBI has refused to discuss. Taking you on a journey deep into the gangs of Boston, Kurkjian emerges with the most complete and compelling version of this story ever told.

When two police officers knock on the door of the Isabelle Garnder art museum in the middle of the night, the security team has no idea they are about to be the victims of master thieves. Nearly three decades later, the robbery of priceless pieces of art remains unsolved. Hooked by the heist from the start, Stephen Kurkjian, former Boston Globe reporter and member of the famed Spotlight team, shares what we know…and what they suspect.

  • The presentation of the crime’s facts and depiction of the museum’s desperation to recover the lost artwork speaks to Kurkjian’s journalist background. Even while sharing basic knowledge about the crime, Kurkjian retained his narrative sense, creating a hook that kept me turning pages.
  • I’d never heard of the heist itself. It was unimaginable to me that two guys, dressed (somewhat shabbily, if the stories are true) as police officers could waltz into an art museum and steal Rembrandts, Vermeers, and others.
  • What made it especially fascinating where the details about the art world and the art crime divisions, a force I assumed existed, but had never thought of much.
  • The background of the mob wars in Boston at the time. At first, they didn’t feel relevant (and to some degree, I’m not sure they are), but the dueling stories contrasted beautifully in Master Thieves.
  • The interviews and portraits of the suspects, mobsters, police and museum officials created an emotional texture to Master Thieves that hooked me. However, it felt like Kurkjian occasionally went off on tangents about these people, forgetting to tie back why they were important to the Gardener robbery.
  • I loved the level of detail included, but the amount of it sometimes weighed down the story instead of lifting it up, especially when Kurkjian was reintroducing us to people.
  • Typos. Not the misprint kind, but the kind editing should catch. I found split sentence fragments and occasional sentences where it began and ended with the same clause. (ex. “He went to the market because he wanted to buy some bread, so he went to the market.”) It was probably just missed in editing, but it yanked me out of the story.
Snapshot Review:

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Image result for oceans eleven gif

Perfect for

True crime fans, mystery and thriller lovers

4 Stars

Posted January 10, 2018 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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January 9, 2018

4 Debuts I Meant to Read in 2017

Publisher: Blink

Top Ten Tuesday

2017 was the craziest year. I got married, started a new job, began remodels on our house…and somewhere, in all that noise, reading fell by the wayside. It feels like there is never enough hours in the day, let alone in the year, for me to read all the books I want to finish before that famed ball drops. Even though I missed these seven debuts in 2017, there’s no way I’m letting another year go by before I get my hands on them!

4 Debuts I Meant to Read in 2017Toward a Secret Sky by Heather Maclean
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Shortly after 17-year-old Maren Hamilton is orphaned and sent to live with grandparents she’s never met in Scotland, she receives an encrypted journal from her dead mother that makes her and everyone around her a target. It confirms that her parents were employed by a secret, international organization that’s now intent on recruiting her. As Maren works to unravel the clues left behind by her mother, a murderous madness sweeps through the local population, terrorizing her small town. Maren must decide if she’ll continue her parents’ fight or stay behind to save her friends.

With the help of Gavin, an otherworldly mercenary she’s not supposed to fall in love with, and Graham, a charming aristocrat who is entranced with her, Maren races against the clock and around the country from palatial estates with twisted labyrinths to famous cathedrals with booby-trapped subterranean crypts to stay ahead of the enemy and find a cure. Along the way, she discovers the great truth of love: that laying down your life for another isn’t as hard as watching them sacrifice everything for you.

4 Debuts I Meant to Read in 2017The Truth Beneath the Lies by Amanda Searcy
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Fight or Flight.

All Kayla Asher wants to do is run. Run from the government housing complex she calls home. Run from her unstable mother. Run from a desperate job at No Limit Foods. Run to a better, cleaner, safer life. Every day is one day closer to leaving.

All Betsy Hopewell wants to do is survive. Survive the burner phone hidden under her bed. Survive her new rules. Survive a new school with new classmates. Survive being watched. Every minute grants her another moment of life.

But when fate brings Kayla and Betsy together, only one girl will live.

4 Debuts I Meant to Read in 2017Shimmer and Burn by Mary Taranta
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

To save her sister’s life, Faris must smuggle magic into a plague-ridden neighboring kingdom in this exciting and dangerous start to a brand-new fantasy duology.

Faris grew up fighting to survive in the slums of Brindaigel while caring for her sister, Cadence. But when Cadence is caught trying to flee the kingdom and is sold into slavery, Faris reluctantly agrees to a lucrative scheme to buy her back, inadvertently binding herself to the power-hungry Princess Bryn, who wants to steal her father’s throne.

Now Faris must smuggle stolen magic into neighboring Avinea to incite its prince to alliance—magic that addicts in the war-torn country can sense in her blood and can steal with a touch. She and Bryn turn to a handsome traveling magician, North, who offers protection from Avinea’s many dangers, but he cannot save Faris from Bryn’s cruelty as she leverages Cadence’s freedom to force Faris to do anything—or kill anyone—she asks. Yet Faris is as fierce as Bryn, and even as she finds herself falling for North, she develops schemes of her own.

With the fate of kingdoms at stake, Faris, Bryn, and North maneuver through a dangerous game of magical and political machinations, where lives can be destroyed—or saved—with only a touch.

4 Debuts I Meant to Read in 2017A Better Man (Sunshine Creek Vineyard, #1) by Candis Terry
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Meet the Kincade brothers: they’ll do what it takes to protect their legacy—but what happens when love gets in the way?

Hockey star Jordan Kincade wasted no time ditching Sunshine Valley and everyone who mattered for a career in the NHL—a truth Jordan confronts when his parents’ deaths bring him home. Now he’s back to make amends, which begins with keeping his younger sister from flunking out of school. It’s just his luck that the one person who can help is the girl whose heart he broke years ago.

Lucy Diamond has racked up a number of monumental mistakes in her life, the first involving a certain blue-eyed charmer. She has no intention of falling for Jordan Kincade again, but when he shows up asking her to help one of her students, Lucy just can’t say no. Worse, the longer he’s back, the more she sees how much he’s changed. And so when a blistering kiss turns to more, she can’t help but wonder if her heart will be crushed again . . . or if she’ll discover true love with a better man.

What books did you miss in 2017?

Posted January 9, 2018 by Ellen in top ten tuesday / 0 Comments

January 3, 2018

Book Talk | An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

Book Talk | An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret RogersonAn Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books, September 2017
Pages: 300
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A skilled painter must stand up to the ancient power of the faerie courts—even as she falls in love with a faerie prince—in this gorgeous debut novel.
Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes—a weakness that could cost him his life.

Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love—and that love violates the fair folks’ ruthless laws. Now both of their lives are forfeit, unless Isobel can use her skill as an artist to fight the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.

Isabel is a careful woman. Instead of asking for eternal youth or perfect hair spells from her faerie clients, she trades protective spells for her renown portraits. When Rook, the autumn Faerie prince sits for her, Isabel can’t help but fall in love with him. But when his portrait creates unrest in the Autumn court, Rook holds Isabel responsible and takes her to the faerie lands to stand trial. Their journey is soon fruaght with danger, from the Wild Hunt to former friends. In the end, it’s up to Isabel, a mortal with a well-loved trade, to save them all.

  • The worldbuilding was stunning. The differences between each court created not only fascinating settings but gorgeous atmosphere and cultures.
  • An Enchantment of Ravenis not set up for a sequel. Don’t get me wrong, I like sequels, but this characteristic makes this book stand out.
  • Margaret Rogerson created the perfect, slightly creepy faerie tale that I want to read again and again. Reminiscent of the Grimm fairy talesAn Enchantment of Ravens had that unique, uncanny quality that makes me want to look over my shoulder at the same time as marvel at her world.
  • The narrative dropped me deep into the story; instead of sitting on my couch on a cloudy weekend day, I was running with Rook and Isabel with the Great Hunt nipping at our heels. I tore through the final, tense scenes, barely aware of what was going on around me.
  • I loved the complexity of not only Isabel and Rook, but the supporting characters. No one was what they appeared, adding an additional layer of intricacy to the protagonists’ motives.
  • The faerie hierarchy was fascinating, but I wanted more. The intricate details of who, where, why, when would have made An Enchantment of Ravens more powerful.
  • Same goes for the rules guarding faerie behavior. While interesting, there wasn’t enough context to make some actions make sense.
  • While I understand why Rogerson skimmed over some of Isabel’s initial infatuation with Rook, it left out some key emotions that built up her mindset when he appeared in the night to take her to trial.
Snapshot review:

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Recommended for:

YA fantasy lovers, Grimms’ fairy tale fans, and those looking for a unique take on the typical fairy tale.


4 Stars

Posted January 3, 2018 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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January 2, 2018

6 New-to-Me Authors I Loved in 2017

Top Ten Tuesday

2017 was a great year, but to say I hit a reading slump is putting it kindly. Despite my laziness, I found some amazing new-to-me authors in 2017 that should be on your TBR!

Jennifer L. Armentrout

Jennifer L. ArmentroutMeet the author:
# 1 New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Jennifer L. Armentrout Lives in West Virginia. All the rumors you heard about her state aren’t true. Well, mostly. When she’s not hard at work writing, she spends her time, reading, working out, watching zombie movies, and pretending to write.

Book I loved: Till Death





Lee Child

Lee Child

Meet the author: Lee Child was born October 29th, 1954 in Coventry, England, but spent his formative years in the nearby city of Birmingham. By coincidence he won a scholarship to the same high school that JRR Tolkien had attended. He went to law school in Sheffield, England, and after part-time work in the theater he joined Granada Television in Manchester for what turned out to be an eighteen-year career as a presentation director during British TV’s “golden age.” During his tenure his company made Brideshead Revisited, The Jewel in the Crown, Prime Suspect, and Cracker. But he was fired in 1995 at the age of 40 as a result of corporate restructuring. Always a voracious reader, he decided to see an opportunity where others might have seen a crisis and bought six dollars’ worth of paper and pencils and sat down to write a book, Killing Floor, the first in the Jack Reacher series.

Lee spends his spare time reading, listening to music, and watching the Yankees, Aston Villa, or Marseilles soccer. He is married with a grown-up daughter. He is tall and slim, despite an appalling diet and a refusal to exercise.

Book I loved: Personal


Therese Ann Fowler

Meet the author: Therese Anne FowlerTherese Anne Fowler is a contemporary American author. She is best known for Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, published in 2013.

Book I loved: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Interview about Z with NPR: https://www.npr.org/2013/03/23/174736463/z-tells-the-fitzgeralds-story-from-zeldas-point-of-view



Tana French

Tana FrenchMeet the author:

Tana French grew up in Ireland, Italy, the US and Malawi, and has lived in Dublin since 1990. She trained as a professional actress at Trinity College, Dublin, and has worked in theater, film and voice-over.

Books I loved: Broken HarbourFaithful PlaceThe Tresspassor





Stephanie Garber

Stephanie Garber

Meet the author:

Stephanie Garber grew up in northern California, where she was often compared to Anne Shirley, Jo March, and other fictional characters with wild imaginations and stubborn streaks. When she’s not writing, Stephanie teaches creative writing, and dreams of her next adventure.

Book I loved: Caraval





Tricia Levenseller

Tricia Levenseller

Meet the author: Tricia Levenseller writes historical fantasies for young adult readers. Her debut, DAUGHTER OF THE PIRATE KING, released earlier this year from Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers.

Initially from a small town in Oregon, Tricia now lives next to the Rocky Mountains with her bossy dog, Rosy. She received her degree in English Language and editing and is thrilled that she never has to read a textbook again. When she’s not writing or reading, Tricia enjoys putting together jigsaw puzzles, playing volleyball, and watching shows while eating extra-buttered popcorn.

Book I loved: Daughter of the Pirate King



Posted January 2, 2018 by Ellen in top ten tuesday / 0 Comments

January 1, 2018

2018 Reading Challenges



I can’t believe it’s 2018. It’s like I blinked, and an entire year went by. But boy, what a year!

I’ll admit, I lost my reading mojo in 2017. I didn’t quite meet the goals I’d set for myself, so instead, I’m making a few changes, especially when it comes to reading challenges. In 2018, I’m trimming it down to find my groove again. Check out the challenges I’ve set for the new year!


2018 Contemporary Romance Reading Challenge

  • Runs January 1, 2018 – December 31, 2018 (books read prior to 1/1/2018 do not count towards the challenge). You can join anytime you want, though the sign up linky will close Nov. 15, 2018. 
  • The goal is to read as many Contemporary Romance books as you’d like. See the different levels below and pick the one that works best for you. You can move up a level as often as you’d like but no moving down. Remember, the idea is to challenge yourself.
  • Books that qualify for this challenge can be young adult, new adult, or adult. Books can be M/F, M/M, or F/F. Books must be a work of fiction (sorry, nonfiction does not qualify for this challenge).
  • Romances with the following elements do not qualify for this reading challenge: paranormal, historical, time-travel, fantasy, science fiction, or mystery/suspense/thriller.
  • Books can be any format (print, ebook, audio).
  • Novellas that are 100 pages in length (give or take), as well as full-length novels, will count for this reading challenge.
  • Re-reads and crossovers from other reading challenges are allowed.
  • Use the hashtag #ContRom2018 when posting your reviews/updates/re-caps/monthly topics on social media.
  • To join this challenge, grab the 2018 Contemporary Romance Reading Challenge button below and post this reading challenge on your blog to track your progress. Please include a link back to this sign-up post so others can join the reading challenge too. This will be your “update post” when doing the monthly link up.
  • You do not have to be a book blogger to participate; you can track your progress on Goodreads, LibraryThing, BookLikes, etc., so as long as you have a dedicated shelf for the 2018 Contemporary Romance Reading Challenge (your designated “update post” for the monthly link up) and your profile is not private. The point of linking up is to have a place where people can see what you’re reading

3rd base – 11-15 books

  1. Show Me by Abigail Strom
  2. Unconditionally by Erin Lyon
  3. The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guilloy
  4. Dirty Charmer by Emma Chase
  5. Paradise by Judith McNaught
  6. Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas
  7. Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
  8. Manhunting by Jennifer Crusie
  9. Talk Me Down by Victoria Dahl
  10. Hard and Fast by Erin McCarthy
  11. It’s a Fugly Life by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff
  12. Come Sundown by Nora Roberts
  13. Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts
follow my progress here!

2018 Debut Author Reading Challenge

Challenge Objectives:

  • To introduce readers to this year’s wonderful group of debut authors.
  • To challenge readers to read 12 or more (or less! It’s up to you!) middle grade, young adult, and new adult debuts this year.

Challenge Rules:

  • You must post your thoughts on each debut book you read in order for it to count towards the challenge. You can post anywhere: your blog, Goodreads, Amazon, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, etc. If you can link it up, it counts!
  • You can join the challenge whenever you want.
  • The debuts must have a publishing date in 2018 and must have been read between January 1, 2018 and January 31, 2019 (this extra month allows readers adequate time to read December debuts) in order to count.
  • Each review gives you an entry into the bi-annual (two times a year) debut book giveaways (you will get to choose the book you win). Make sure you post the links to my bi-annual link-ups. I will post these link-ups on the first day of January and July.
  • This challenge is open internationally, as are the bi-annual debut book giveaways (provided Book Depository ships to you).
  • I don’t care what language you write your reviews in, I just need to know which book you have reviewed so I can verify your entry. When you post your link in the Linky, please include the book title in English.
  • Use the hashtag #DebutAuthorChallenge so we can all see what everyone’s up to!

Read the rest of the rules on The Artsy Reader Girl here.

I love the idea of meeting new/debut authors, but in the past, I’ve struggled to get my hands on a copy of the book in time to read it. This year, I’m aiming to read one debut a month by giving myself a few weeks to find the book before the review is scheduled.

  1. The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross
  2. To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
  3. The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw
  4. Love and Other Carnivorous Plants by Florence Gonsalves
  5. A Conspiracy of Stars by Olivia A. Cole
  6. Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
  7. The Girl King by Mimi Yu
  8. Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge
  9. Everless by Sara Holland
  10. Nothing But Sky by Amy Trueblood
  11. Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young
  12. People Like Us by Dana Mele
follow my progress here!

2018 Popsugar Reading Challenge

Complete the 40 book prompts to widen your reading scope in 2018! Download the printable or save the graphic.

I’m planning to finish the 40 prompts by the end of the year. If I do, I’ll add the 10 advanced prompts into my blog calendar!

  1. Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
  2. Fire Lover by Joseph Wambaugh
  3. Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas
  4. The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
  5. Cursed by Thomas Enger
  6. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
  7. Into the Woods by Tana French
  8. Come Sundown by Nora Roberts
  9. Vicious by V.E. Schwab
  10. Dark in Death by J.D. Robb
  11. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
  12. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
  13. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling
  14. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  15. Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella
  16. Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo
  17. Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
  18. The Deal by Elle Kennedy
  19. The Hunter by John Lescroart
  20. The Green Mile by Stephen King
  21. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre
  22. Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken
  23. Storm Front by Jim Butcher
  24. Daughter of the Siren Queen by Tricia Levenseller
  25. The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King
  26. The Martian by Andy Weir
  27. Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie
  28. Origin in Death by J.D. Robb
  29. The Thirteenth Tale by Diana Setterfield
  30. Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
  31. South and West by Joan Didion
  32. Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
  33. Legendary by Stephanie Garber
  34. Without Merit by Colleen Hoover
  35. The Run of His Life: The People Vs. O.J. Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin
  36. Renegades by Marissa Meyer
  37. Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks and Gangstas in the Public Library by Don Borchert
  38. The Appeal by John Grisham
  39. This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada
  40. Dubliners by James Joyce

follow my progress here.

Posted January 1, 2018 by Ellen in the canon talks / 0 Comments

December 4, 2017

Returned to the Library: The DNF | Vol. I

by Elle Katharine White, Lev Grossman, Mary E. Pearson, Philippa Gregory
Publisher: Harper Voyager, Henry Holt and Co. (BYR), Touchstone, Viking

Returned to the Library is a (new!) feature where I sum up the latest books I’ve returned to the library or put down unfinished.

Returned to the Library: The DNF | Vol. IHeartstone by Elle Katharine White
Publisher: Harper Voyager, January 2017

A debut historical fantasy that recasts Jane Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice in an imaginative world of wyverns, dragons, and the warriors who fight alongside them against the monsters that threaten the kingdom: gryphons, direwolves, lamias, banshees, and lindworms
They say a Rider in possession of a good blade must be in want of a monster to slay—and Merybourne Manor has plenty of monsters.
Passionate, headstrong Aliza Bentaine knows this all too well; she’s already lost one sister to the invading gryphons. So when Lord Merybourne hires a band of Riders to hunt down the horde, Aliza is relieved her home will soon be safe again.
Her relief is short-lived. With the arrival of the haughty and handsome dragonrider, Alastair Daired, Aliza expects a battle; what she doesn’t expect is a romantic clash of wills, pitting words and wit against the pride of an ancient house. Nor does she anticipate the mystery that follows them from Merybourne Manor, its roots running deep as the foundations of the kingdom itself, where something old and dreadful slumbers . . . something far more sinister than gryphons.
It’s a war Aliza is ill-prepared to wage, on a battlefield she’s never known before: one spanning kingdoms, class lines, and the curious nature of her own heart.
Elle Katharine White infuses elements of Austen’s beloved novel with her own brand of magic, crafting a modern epic fantasy that conjures a familiar yet wondrously unique new world.

Oh, how desperately I wanted to love this book. A Pride and Prejudice retelling in a fantasy world? Yes, please!

But I couldn’t get into the characters or their story. Once I realized that a majority of the characters shared similar names (or at least names starting with the same letter), I felt disillusioned and lost interest in the story.

Returned to the Library: The DNF | Vol. IThe Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson
Series: The Remnant Chronicles,
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR), July 2015

Held captive in the barbarian kingdom of Venda, Lia and Rafe have little chance of escape. Desperate to save Lia's life, her erstwhile assassin, Kaden, has told the Vendan Komizar that she has the gift, and the Komizar's interest in Lia is greater than anyone could have foreseen.

Meanwhile, nothing is straightforward: There's Rafe, who lied to Lia but has sacrificed his freedom to protect her; Kaden, who meant to assassinate her but has now saved her life; and the Vendans, whom Lia always believed to be savages. Now that she lives among them, however, she realizes that may be far from the truth. Wrestling with her upbringing, her gift, and her sense of self, Lia must make powerful choices that will affect her country... and her own destiny.

I loved Pearson’s first book, but The Heart of Betrayal didn’t hold the same allure for me. Pearson starts the narrative off just as she left it at the end of The Kiss of Deception, but without a little background, I felt lost. The dynamics and motives of the Kozimar were interesting, but not enough to keep me hooked.

Returned to the Library: The DNF | Vol. IThe Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory
Series: ,
Publisher: Touchstone, August 2017

The latest novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Philippa Gregory features one of the most famous girls in history, Lady Jane Grey, and her two sisters, each of whom dared to defy her queen. Jane Grey was queen of England for nine days, dying on the scaffold for her faith. But few people know about her two sisters, cousins to Elizabeth I who also faced imprisonment and death sentences for treason. Katherine Grey was the beauty of the family who earned the lifelong hatred of her cousin Elizabeth I when she married for love. Mary Grey was an extraordinary little person known as a dwarf in Tudor times, who defied convention to marry the tallest man at court in her own secret love match. The fascinating story of three idiosyncratic Tudor girls and their challenges to the most powerful Tudor woman of all is the subject of the next novel from the author who defines what it means to be a writer of historical fiction (RT Book Reviews)."

Gregory’s work is typically one of my favorites (one of her books was in my 10 Books I’m Grateful For list), but The Last Tudor and I started off on the wrong foot instantly. Why? The narrator. She was whiny, selfish, and narcissistic. Granted, she was a pre-teen girl, and most pre-teen girls have at least one of those unfortunate characteristics. I would have stuck with her longer, but without the immediate historical context, The Last Tudor felt more like work than fun.

Returned to the Library: The DNF | Vol. IThe Magicians by Lev Grossman
Series: ,
Publisher: Viking, August 2009

A thrilling and original coming-of-age novel for adults about a young man practicing magic in the real world.

Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he’s still secretly preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery.

He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. Something is missing, though. Magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he dreamed it would. After graduation he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. But the land of Quentin’s fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined. His childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.

At once psychologically piercing and magnificently absorbing, The Magicians boldly moves into uncharted literary territory, imagining magic as practiced by real people, with their capricious desires and volatile emotions. Lev Grossman creates an utterly original world in which good and evil aren’t black and white, love and sex aren’t simple or innocent, and power comes at a terrible price.

The Magicians was, honestly, built up in my mind. I knew they had started a Netflix series about the show, but I wanted to read the book beforehand. I expected a lot more from this wildly popular book, but the only winning element was the beautiful atmospheres Grossman created. I liked the magical school entry exams, but the main character was so uncomfortable in his own skin that I felt just as awkward. Not a winning combination for me.

Posted December 4, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments

December 3, 2017

Review | The Laird Takes a Bride by Lisa Berne

Review | The Laird Takes a Bride by Lisa BerneThe Laird Takes a Bride by Lisa Berne
Series: The Penhallow Dynasty, #2
Publisher: Avon, August 29, 2017
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Lisa Berne’s Penhallow Dynasty series continues as a Highlander marries against his will —

and discovers he may have found the perfect bride.

Alasdair Penhallow, laird of his clan and master of Castle Tadgh, is forced to end his carefree bachelorhood, thanks to an ancient decree that requires him to marry. But Alasdair’s search for a biddable wife comes to a screeching halt when Fate serves up Fiona Douglass. Prickly as a thistle, Fiona challenges him at every turn, rendering herself surprisingly irresistible. Her love would be a prize indeed . . . if Alasdair could accept it.
Fiona gave her heart once, and doesn’t plan to repeat that folly. Yet she finds herself drawn to Alasdair’s intelligence and strength, and the passion he incites goes well beyond her expectations for what’s only a marriage of expedience. Despite herself, she’s falling in love with her husband.
But there’s a high wall between them — and Fiona’s not sure it can ever be torn down.

I have a special soft spot for historical romances. Especially those set in England or Scotland. Especially when they have a strong heroine, a twist of lore, and a hero who is reluctantly falling in love. So on the surface, The Laird Takes a Bride should have been the perfect read. But there were a few elements that kept the book from being an easy win.

Simply, there was too much going on in the plot. From archaic rules dictating who and when the laird should marry, a historical romance version of the Bachelor, to conflicts with neighboring clans, I couldn’t follow the thread of The Laird Takes a Bride‘s main plot. Each idea would have been great alone or paired with just one other, but together, it felt jumbled.

The overwhelming amount of things going on stilted the character development. It was hard to get to know them. Let’s take Fiona, the heroine, for example. She’s already classified as a spinster, destined to remain with her family until her death. Then mix in her father’s physical and verbal abuse, her mother’s meekness, and her cousin Isabel’s past interference with Fiona’s love life, which ended in her sister marrying her one true love. That’s a lot for a girl to deal with and would have made for a fascinating character. But she never gets to build it up, create her motives, her thoughts, her feelings, because Berne throws her into the Scottish Bachelor.

Speaking of the Scottish bachelor, Laird Alasdair has enough going on in his own life, thank you very much. Raised by an uncle who would rather teach him to party than to be a laird, Alasdair discovers with a rude awakening that he needs to marry as soon as possible to one of the local noble ladies. Add in his own demons (family, past lovers, etc) and he’s got a lot going on. Again, it would have been an interesting character if The Laird Takes A Bride had given him enough time to develop.

When these two troubled, undeveloped characters met, their chemistry just wasn’t there. The love scenes and tender moments didn’t make sense because they didn’t have the background to support them.

Fiona was determined to make the best of her lot, an outstanding characteristic that shone through the muddle. This pushed Alasdair in unexpected ways and forced a little character development for them both.

For me, the saving grace of The Laird Takes a Bride comes in two parts: the wacky old wisewoman and the final climatic scene.

The wisewoman was funny – occasionally unintentionally – and brought a little personality and humor when I felt I couldn’t make heads or tails out of the narrative. Her small role in forcing Fiona and Alasdair together was subtle, but crucial to the plot.

And that final scene. Sigh. It brings to mind that beautiful scene near the end of  2005’s Pride and Prejudice. You know the one I mean…

Image result for pride and prejudice gif

Yep. That one.

The romance between Fiona and Alasdair was good; with all the activity, there was plenty of tension. Yet without more character development, I felt little attachment to them. It’s the final scene, so quietly poginant and stunningly emotional that saved the story.


3 Stars

Posted December 3, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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December 1, 2017

Montly Rewind | November 2017

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I can’t believe it’s December. It feels like I was just melting in the August heat, but I blinked, and everyone is bundled up in sweaters and scarves. I’m not complaining – fall and winter are my favorite time of the year!

With work starting to slow down a bit for the end of the year, I can finally focus again on reading. It’s been hit and miss lately; either I don’t have the energy to keep my eyes open when I get home or the books I’m picking up just aren’t good fits for me. Fingers crossed I finally come out of the reading slump – there are some fantastic books coming out this month!

In our house, the holiday lights are up, the Hallmark ornaments are on the mantel, and Christmas music is on repeat! I’m excited to celebrate our first Christmas as a married couple (that still blows my mind).

Oh, and I’ve started blogging about my new writing project as well. It’s exciting, terrifying, exhilarating and exhausting all at once. And I LOVE it!

But to get down to what you’re really here for:

November 2017 Reads
A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #3)Till DeathThe Last Tudor (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels, #15)The Day of the Duchess (Scandal & Scoundrel, #3)The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles, #2)HeartstoneSecrets in Death (In Death, #45)
November 2017 Reviews

Till DeathThe WidowThe Duchess Deal (Girl Meets Duke, #1)A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka: A Memoir

Favorite read:

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah  J. Maas

Favorite review:

A Backpack, a Bear and Eight Crates of Vodka by Lev Golinkin

Favorite working playlist:


Favorite playlist on repeat:


I’m hooked on:
What did you fall in love with this November?

Posted December 1, 2017 by Ellen in monthly rewind / 0 Comments

November 30, 2017

On My Radar | December 2017 Releases

It’s almost a new month and you know what that means: new books! I always love seeing what comes out just before and during the holiday season. This year’s December releases looks to be one of the best yet! Check out the books I’m especially looking forward to this year:

On My Radar | December 2017 ReleasesThe Truth Beneath the Lies by Amanda Searcy
Publisher: Delacorte Press, December 12th 2017

Fight or Flight.
All Kayla Asher wants to do is run. Run from the government housing complex she calls home. Run from her unstable mother. Run from a desperate job at No Limit Foods. Run to a better, cleaner, safer life. Every day is one day closer to leaving.
All Betsy Hopewell wants to do is survive. Survive the burner phone hidden under her bed. Survive her new rules. Survive a new school with new classmates. Survive being watched. Every minute grants her another moment of life.
But when fate brings Kayla and Betsy together, only one girl will live.

On My Radar | December 2017 ReleasesYear One (Chronicles of The One, #1) by Nora Roberts
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, December 5th 2017

It began on New Year’s Eve.
The sickness came on suddenly, and spread quickly. The fear spread even faster. Within weeks, everything people counted on began to fail them. The electrical grid sputtered; law and government collapsed—and more than half of the world’s population was decimated.
Where there had been order, there was now chaos. And as the power of science and technology receded, magic rose up in its place. Some of it is good, like the witchcraft worked by Lana Bingham, practicing in the loft apartment she shares with her lover, Max. Some of it is unimaginably evil, and it can lurk anywhere, around a corner, in fetid tunnels beneath the river—or in the ones you know and love the most.
As word spreads that neither the immune nor the gifted are safe from the authorities who patrol the ravaged streets, and with nothing left to count on but each other, Lana and Max make their way out of a wrecked New York City. At the same time, other travelers are heading west too, into a new frontier. Chuck, a tech genius trying to hack his way through a world gone offline. Arlys, a journalist who has lost her audience but uses pen and paper to record the truth. Fred, her young colleague, possessed of burgeoning abilities and an optimism that seems out of place in this bleak landscape. And Rachel and Jonah, a resourceful doctor and a paramedic who fend off despair with their determination to keep a young mother and three infants in their care alive.
In a world of survivors where every stranger encountered could be either a savage or a savior, none of them knows exactly where they are heading, or why. But a purpose awaits them that will shape their lives and the lives of all those who remain.
The end has come. The beginning comes next.

On My Radar | December 2017 ReleasesThe Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, February 6th 2018

Alaska, 1974.Untamed.Unpredictable.And for a family in crisis, the ultimate test of the human spirit.
From the author who brought you the phenomenon of The Nightingale.


On My Radar | December 2017 ReleasesThe Young Queens (Three Dark Crowns, #0.5) by Kendare Blake
Publisher: HarperTeen, December 26th 2017

Three black witches, born to a descending queen. One would rise to become queen in her place. Perhaps the strongest of the three. Perhaps the cleverest. Or perhaps it would be the girl born under the best shield of luck.
Katharine, Arsinoe and Mirabella - three young queens born to fulfil their destiny - to fight to the death to win the crown. But before they were poisoner, elemental and naturalist, they were children, sisters and friends . . .

On My Radar | December 2017 ReleasesCrown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey by Nicola Tallis
Publisher: Pegasus Books, December 12th 2017

"Good people, I am come hither to die, and by a law I am condemned to the same.” These were the heartbreaking words of a seventeen-year-old girl, Lady Jane Grey, as she stood on the scaffold awaiting death on a cold February morning in 1554. Minutes later her head was struck from her body with a single stroke of a heavy axe. Her death for high treason sent shockwaves through the Tudor world, and served as a gruesome reminder to all who aspired to a crown that the axe could fall at any time.
Jane is known to history as "the Nine Days Queen," but her reign lasted, in fact, for thirteen days. The human and emotional aspects of her story have often been ignored, although she is remembered as one of the Tudor Era’s most tragic victims. While this is doubtlessly true, it is only part of the complex jigsaw of Jane’s story. She was a remarkable individual with a charismatic personality who earned the admiration and affection of many of those who knew her. All were impressed by her wit, passion, intelligence, and determined spirit. Furthermore, the recent trend of trying to highlight her achievements and her religious faith has, in fact, further obscured the real Jane, a young religious radical who saw herself as an advocate of the reformed faith—Protestantism—and ultimately became a martyr for it.
Crown of Blood is an important and significant retelling of an often-misunderstood tale: set at the time of Jane’s downfall and following her journey through to her trial and execution, each chapter moves between the past and the “present,” using a rich abundance of primary source material (some of which has never been published) in order to paint a vivid picture of Jane’s short and turbulent life. This dramatic narrative traces the dangerous plots and web of deadly intrigue in which Jane became involuntarily tangled—and which ultimately led to a shocking and catastrophic conclusion.

On My Radar | December 2017 ReleasesSo Over You by Kate Meader
Publisher: Pocket Books, December 19th 2017

Three estranged sisters struggle to sustain their late father’s failing hockey franchise in Kate Meader’s sizzling Chicago Rebels series. In this second entry, middle sister Isobel is at a crossroads in her personal and professional lives. But both are about to get a significant boost with the addition of a domineering Russian powerhouse to the Rebels...
Isobel Chase knows hockey. She played NCAA, won silver at the Games, and made it thirty-seven minutes into the new National Women’s Hockey League before an injury sidelined her dreams. Those who can’t, coach, and a position as a skating consultant to her late father’s hockey franchise, the Chicago Rebels, seems like a perfect fit. Until she’s assigned her first job: the man who skated into her heart as a teen and relieved her of her pesky virginity. These days, left-winger Vadim Petrov is known as the Czar of Pleasure, a magnet for puck bunnies and the tabloids alike. But back then... let’s just say his inability to sink the puck left Isobel frustratingly scoreless.
Vadim has a first name that means “ruler,” and it doesn’t stop at his birth certificate. He dominates on the ice, the practice rink, and in the backseat of a limo. But a knee injury has produced a bad year, and bad years in the NHL don’t go unrewarded. His penance? To be traded to a troubled team where his personal coach is Isobel Chase, the woman who drove him wild years ago when they were hormonal teens. But apparently the feeling was not entirely mutual.
That Vadim might have failed to give Isobel the pleasure that was her right is intolerable, and he plans to make it up to her—one bone-melting orgasm at a time. After all, no player can perfect his game without a helluva lot of practice...

On My Radar | December 2017 ReleasesThe Art of Running in Heels by Rachel Gibson
Publisher: Avon, December 26th 2017

Running in five-inch stilettos is an art form
Leaving your fiancé at the altar on live television is a disaster. Lexie Kowalsky thought she was ready to get married in front of millions of people, but at the last minute she fled the set of television’s hottest reality show, Gettin’ Hitched. Wearing a poofy white dress and a pair of five-inch sparkly shoes, Lexie hopped a float plane for Sandspit, Canada. She figured no one would find her there. But she was wrong.
Sharing her flight was the Seattle Chinooks biggest star, Sean Knox. Lexie wasn’t just a reality-show runaway, she was his pain in the butt coach’s daughter. She was chaos and temptation and definitely off limits, but getting her luscious body out of that wedding gown, he couldn’t resist getting her in his bed for one amazing night.
Then a photo of Sean and Lexi breaks the internet—and suddenly they’re both swept up in a crazy plan to spin the whole story. But you can’t run from love—

On My Radar | December 2017 ReleasesEver the Brave (A Clash of Kingdoms #2) by Erin Summerill
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers, December 5th 2017

Ever the Divided. Ever the Feared. Ever the Brave.After saving King Aodren with her newfound Channeler powers, Britta only wants to live a peaceful life in her childhood home. Unfortunately, saving the King has created a tether between them she cannot sever, no matter how much she'd like to, and now he's insisting on making her a noble lady. And there are those who want to use Britta’s power for evil designs. If Britta cannot find a way to harness her new magical ability, her life—as well as her country—may be lost.
The stakes are higher than ever in the sequel to Ever the Hunted, as Britta struggles to protect her kingdom and her heart.

On My Radar | December 2017 ReleasesEnchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiaverini
Publisher: Dutton Books, December 5th 2017

The only legitimate child of Lord Byron, the most brilliant, revered, and scandalous of the Romantic poets, Ada was destined for fame long before her birth. Estranged from Ada’s father, who was infamously “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” Ada’s mathematician mother is determined to save her only child from her perilous Byron heritage. Banishing fairy tales and make-believe from the nursery, Ada’s mother provides her daughter with a rigorous education grounded in mathematics and science. Any troubling spark of imagination—or worse yet, passion or poetry—promptly extinguished. Or so her mother believes.

When Ada is introduced into London society as a highly eligible young heiress, she at last discovers the intellectual and social circles she has craved all her life. Little does she realize that her delightful new friendship with inventor Charles Babbage—brilliant, charming, and occasionally curmudgeonly—will shape her destiny. Intrigued by the prototype of his first calculating machine, the Difference Engine, and enthralled by the p;plans for his even more advanced Analytical Engine, Ada resolves to help Babbage realize his extraordinary vision, unique in her understanding of how his invention could transform the world. All the while, she passionately studies mathematics—ignoring skeptics who consider it an unusual, even unhealthy pursuit for a woman—falls in love, discovers the shocking secrets behind her parents’ estrangement, and comes to terms with the unquenchable fire of her imagination.

Posted November 30, 2017 by Ellen in on my radar / 0 Comments
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