Category: reviews

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.

Loved:
  • 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!
Liked:
  • 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.
Loathed:

Nothing!

Review Snapshot:

Image result for kraken gif

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
Tags: , , , ,


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
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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.

Loved:
  • 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.
Liked:
  • 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.
Loathed:
  • 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:

Image result for oceans eleven gif

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
Tags: , ,


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
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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.

Loved:
  • 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.
Liked:
  • 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.
Loathed:
  • 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:

Image result for amazement girl gif

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
Tags: , , , ,


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
Tags:


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
Tags: , ,


November 22, 2017

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

Review | A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka by Lev GolinkinA Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka: A Memoir by Lev Golinkin
Publisher: Doubleday, November 2014
Pages: 307
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

A compelling story of two intertwined journeys: a Jewish refugee family fleeing persecution and a young man seeking to reclaim a shattered past. In the twilight of the Cold War (the late 1980s), nine-year old Lev Golinkin and his family cross the Soviet border with only ten suitcases, $600, and the vague promise of help awaiting in Vienna. Years later, Lev, now an American adult, sets out to retrace his family's long trek, locate the strangers who fought for his freedom, and in the process, gain a future by understanding his past.

Lev Golinkin's memoir is the vivid, darkly comic, and poignant story of a young boy in the confusing and often chilling final decade of the Soviet Union. It's also the story of Lev Golinkin, the American man who finally confronts his buried past by returning to Austria and Eastern Europe to track down the strangers who made his escape possible . . . and say thank you. Written with biting, acerbic wit and emotional honesty in the vein of Gary Shteyngart, Jonathan Safran Foer, and David Bezmozgis, Golinkin's search for personal identity set against the relentless currents of history is more than a memoir—it's a portrait of a lost era. This is a thrilling tale of escape and survival, a deeply personal look at the life of a Jewish child caught in the last gasp of the Soviet Union, and a provocative investigation into the power of hatred and the search for belonging. Lev Golinkin achieves an amazing feat—and it marks the debut of a fiercely intelligent, defiant, and unforgettable new voice.

Moving is scary. The uprooting of the place called home usually strikes fear in all of us, subconsciously or otherwise. Especially kids. Especially when the home you’re leaving is in the Soviet Union.

Lev Golinkin’s A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka is a poignant, unexpectedly funny at times and terrifying at others, unique take on one of the more unspoken periods of modern history: the emigration of Jews from the U.S.S.R.

I knew life in the Soviet Union couldn’t have been easy, but Golinkin’s depiction of his Jewish upbringing and the struggles he and his family endured merely because of their ethnicity was heartbreaking. Golinkin’s narration was threaded with a sort of absence that children have when speaking of hard memories in their past. Instead of slowing down the narrative, it brought an emotional touch, a sense that the author was talking to me in real time instead of words on a page.

The first difficult part (buckle your seatbelts, there’s a few in this book) came when Lev and his family finally got permission to leave the country. The catch? They could only take two suitcases and some cash. Everything else, especially items of value, belonged to the country, not them. Their personal documents, including passports, transcripts, projects, writings – they were all to be left behind. If you didn’t, the border check would find them…and you didn’t want that.

So when Lev left his homeland, all he had was a backpack with a few changes of clothes, a small turtle carving, and a bear. Oh, those eight crates of vodka? Those were used as bribery to ensure the family’s safe passage out of the Soviet Union to Vienna.

All of these elements are fascinating on their own, but what tied them all together was Golinkin’s narration. It was personal, vivid, emotional and yet detached all at once. It had an authenticity that brought his past and his present search together into one cohesive book that I couldn’t put down.

A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka is a surprisingly refreshing yet emotional memoir of a harrowing escape and determined pursuit of the American dream. Golinkin’s work quickly became and still is one of my favorite nonfiction reads of the year.

4 Stars

Posted November 22, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
Tags: , ,


November 20, 2017

Review | The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

Review | The Duchess Deal by Tessa DareThe Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare
Series: Girl Meets Duke, #1
Publisher: Avon, August 2017
Pages: 370
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


When girl meets Duke, their marriage breaks all the rules…

Since his return from war, the Duke of Ashbury’s to-do list has been short and anything but sweet: brooding, glowering, menacing London ne’er-do-wells by night. Now there’s a new item on the list. He needs an heir—which means he needs a wife. When Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter turned seamstress, appears in his library wearing a wedding gown, he decides on the spot that she’ll do.
His terms are simple:- They will be husband and wife by night only.- No lights, no kissing. - No questions about his battle scars.- Last, and most importantly… Once she’s pregnant with his heir, they need never share a bed again.
But Emma is no pushover. She has a few rules of her own:- They will have dinner together every evening.- With conversation.- And unlimited teasing.- Last, and most importantly… Once she’s seen the man beneath the scars, he can’t stop her from falling in love…

Beauty and the Beast meets Regency romance in Tessa Dare’s latest, The Duchess Deal. Dare’s characteristically clever writing brings this new spin on the classic love story to life.

After suffering traumatic injuries in the war, the Duke of Ashbury has turned into a skeletal version of the man he once was. Abandoned by his intended and feared by society, he comes a veritable recluse, skulking around his darkened home with only his staff for company. For the most part, he prefers it that way; no one stares at his disfiguration, and he can pretend, at least temporarily, that everything is fine. But like many other dukes, he needs an heir. And for that, he needs a wife.

Emma works as a seamstress after being kicked out of her father’s home, frantically working to make ends meet. When the Duke of Ashbury’s wedding is called off, the bride, Emma’s biggest client, refuses to pay for the monstrosity of a dress she’s ordered. Donning the dress, Emma strides into Ashbury’s study, intending to demand payment for her work. Instead, she finds herself face-to-face with a mysterious man who offers a tempting deal.

There’s a lighthearted loveliness in The Duchess Deal that I adored. Considering the difficult topics it tackles – self-esteem, the power and wrath of family, the strength of friendship – it’s a welcome element.

Yet while Dare probes deeper into the complex issues surrounding the Beauty and the Beast tale, I wish she’d given Emma a little more oomph. She was sweet, she was kind, she saw past Ashbury’s inner hatred to himself to reveal the real man. But more often than not, Emma felt a little one-dimensional. She gave me the vague feeling of someone I’ve met before.

She provides a sharp contrast to the dark, broken man that Ashbury has become. The difference brings a new vibrancy to the story and showcases Ashbury’s character journey in the best way. But still. I wished a little more for her.

The Duchess Deal is a sweet, unexpected take on one of my favorite fairy tales. Dare’s snappy dialogue, clever narrative and instinct for the hilarious brought all the elements together for a great trip back in time.

4 Stars

Posted November 20, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
Tags: , ,


November 16, 2017

Review | The Widow by Fiona Barton

Review | The Widow by Fiona BartonThe Widow by Fiona Barton
Publisher: NAL, February 16th 2016
Pages: 324
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

When the police started asking questions, Jean Taylor turned into a different woman. One who enabled her and her husband to carry on, when more bad things began to happen...
But that woman’s husband died last week. And Jean doesn’t have to be her anymore.
There’s a lot Jean hasn’t said over the years about the crime her husband was suspected of committing. She was too busy being the perfect wife, standing by her man while living with the accusing glares and the anonymous harassment.
Now there’s no reason to stay quiet. There are people who want to hear her story. They want to know what it was like living with that man. She can tell them that there were secrets. There always are in a marriage.
The truth—that’s all anyone wants. But the one lesson Jean has learned in the last few years is that she can make people believe anything…

Caught up in the tempest of her husband’s horrific crimes, Jean Taylor plays the dutiful wife. She stays stalwart in the face of harassment, stares, and outright disgust. She remains silent against the onslaught of hatred aimed at her for standing by her husband. But after his death, Jean is free to say anything she wants…and the whole world is waiting to hear.

It’s only fair to call The Widow a book of the unexpected. The most surprising of all was the viciousness of the crimes. Barton’s novel addresses a genuine threat to today’s society: the internet and those who use it to their own nefarious ends. Although it goes without saying, the crimes of pedophilia perpetrated in The Widow were terrifying. Seeing them printed in black and white was heartbreaking.

It is these crimes that caused such a drastic shift in my perception of the characters, especially Jean. In the beginning, she’s almost a victim, portrayed as another damaged soul, collateral to her husband’s sick, twisted mind. But the story unravels, revealing more of Jean and making me wonder how innocent she actually is.

That’s the rub of The Widow. Neither main character is one to cheer for, an unusual problem in today’s popular literature. Instead of the story of the heartbroken, lost wife rebuilding her life after her monstrous husband passes away, Jean’s unreliable narration casts her own character into doubt.

Jean’s unreliable narration is what made me fall in love with this book. It made me question the truth in her mind versus truth in reality. Her outward demeanor didn’t match what was below, and the minor characters surrounding her began to show the complexity of her perspective. It cast doubt on Jean herself, but also her entire story.

While The Widow is not an emotionally easy read, it is, without a doubt, a unique one. Jean’s perspective and character development put a new spin on the typical crime/police procedural novel. Instead of looking at facts, examining clues, the story is told by a somewhat unreliable witness…if that is what you choose to call her.

Posted November 16, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
Tags: , , , ,


November 13, 2017

Review | Till Death by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Review | Till Death by Jennifer L. ArmentroutTill Death by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Publisher: William Morrow, February 2017
Pages: 297
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


In New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout’s gripping new novel, a young woman comes home to reclaim her life—even as a murderer plots to end it. . .

It’s been ten years since Sasha Keaton left her West Virginia hometown . . . since she escaped the twisted serial killer known as the Groom. Returning to help run her family inn means being whole again, except for one missing piece. The piece that falls into place when Sasha’s threatened—and FBI agent Cole Landis vows to protect her the way he couldn’t a decade ago.
First one woman disappears; then another, and all the while, disturbing calling cards are left for the sole survivor of the Groom’s reign of terror. Cole’s never forgiven himself for not being there when Sasha was taken, but he intends to make up for it now . . . because under the quirky sexiness Cole first fell for is a steely strength that only makes him love Sasha more.
But someone is watching. Waiting. And Sasha’s first mistake could be her last.

Sasha Keaton wasn’t supposed to live.

Kidnapped and brutalized by the serial killer known only as the Groom, Sasha took a chance on escape and fled to a neighboring ranch. Clad in the wedding dress she was meant to die in, Sasha managed to thwart the Groom and save herself.

Ten years later, Sasha returns to the family inn in her hometown, hoping the emotional distance of ten years is enough to heal the trauma. But from the moment she arrives, something is wrong.

Till Death‘s Sasha gave voice to victims, to the struggle to heal and go back to normalcy. I admired the strength, understood (most of) her motives, and yet sometimes dearly wished she would pick up on the signs and stop throwing herself into the path of danger.

The real hook of Armentrout’s work lay in the dueling perspectives. While Sasha’s narration took center stage, the criminal’s occasional POV ratcheted up the tension, especially as the crimes increased. It brought the whodunit factor sky-high, creating this insatiable urge to know just who this psychopath was.

Till Death‘s romance came in a very close second. Cole’s feelings for the girl that disappeared on him ten years ago and the devotion he has for the dark-and-twisty heroine that she’s become is astonishing. It’s real, it’s intense, and it’s one of the few constants in Sasha’s life. My only complaint? I wish it were a little more drawn out – it felt like it happened entirely too easily, but then again, not much has been easy for Sasha.

Cole’s dependability and devotion, combined with his career as a local FBI agent, makes him a crucial character in Till Death and one I’m glad is standing by Sasha’s side, especially as the violence escalates.

Hidden inside this unsuspecting cover are a gripping thriller, heart-stopping romance, and powerful survivor story. Till Death is the reason  Jennifer Armentrout is at the top of my wishlist.

4 Stars

Posted November 13, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
Tags: , , , ,


October 12, 2017

Review | Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey

Review | Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin DickeyGhostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey
Publisher: Viking, October 2016
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

An intellectual feast for fans of offbeat history, Ghostland takes readers on a road trip through some of the country's most infamously haunted places--and deep into the dark side of our history.

Colin Dickey is on the trail of America's ghosts. Crammed into old houses and hotels, abandoned prisons and empty hospitals, the spirits that linger continue to capture our collective imagination, but why? His own fascination piqued by a house hunt in Los Angeles that revealed derelict foreclosures and "zombie homes," Dickey embarks on a journey across the continental United States to decode and unpack the American history repressed in our most famous haunted places. Some have established reputations as "the most haunted mansion in America," or "the most haunted prison"; others, like the haunted Indian burial grounds in West Virginia, evoke memories from the past our collective nation tries to forget.

With boundless curiosity, Dickey conjures the dead by focusing on questions of the living--how do we, the living, deal with stories about ghosts, and how do we inhabit and move through spaces that have been deemed, for whatever reason, haunted? Paying attention not only to the true facts behind a ghost story, but also to the ways in which changes to those facts are made--and why those changes are made--Dickey paints a version of American history left out of the textbooks, one of things left undone, crimes left unsolved. Spellbinding, scary, and wickedly insightful, Ghostland discovers the past we're most afraid to speak of aloud in the bright light of day is the same past that tends to linger in the ghost stories we whisper in the dark.

Even if the paranormal isn’t your cup of tea, there’s no denying a certain mystical element to American history. From the haunted streets of Salem to the plains of the Native American nations, there’s a piercing awareness that we’re not alone. Colin Dickey’s Ghostland was meant to tell this story.

I say “meant” intentionally. Dickey divvied up his book first into different types of ghost stories (graveyards, cities, etc.), then into various locations within each category. I was thrilled. Usually, I’m not a big paranormal fan, but the prospect of combining my recent love for true crime (thanks to My Favorite Murder) and our newfound desire to travel America, I was hooked. The chapter that sealed the deal? New Orleans. I went to the Big Easy a year ago for work, so I can’t wait to go back with M.

But I digress…

I was hoping Ghostland would tell me the ghost stories of America, paired with the unique history of each, and leave me marking my travel map with must-sees. Instead, Dickey dissects each tale with a faintly condescending academia, implying how people are crazy for not looking at these stories in a coherent light.

Sure, finding out the truth about the secret staircase in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s home, House of Seven Gables, was fascinating. Unique. Defined America’s perception of not only the house but the author. But I wanted the story, not the analytics.

Chapter after chapter, story after story, Dickey analyzed each tale to death (no pun intended) so that I began skipping his critiques and read the short paragraph telling the story, then researching it on Wikipedia.

So why three stars? Because Dickey was honest about the book’s focus. I had built it up in my mind to be more than it was. His versions of the stories were engaging and fascinating, inspiring me to search them out for myself.

If you’re looking for tales about haunted America, I’d suggest looking elsewhere. But if you are hoping for a realistic perception and critical analysis of America’s ghost stories, Ghostland is for you.

3 Stars

Posted October 12, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
Tags: , ,