November 15, 2017

Review | A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

Review | A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. MaasA Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses, #3
Publisher: Bloomsbury Childrens Books, May 2017
Pages: 699
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Looming war threatens all Feyre holds dear in the third volume of the #1 New York Times bestselling A Court of Thorns and Roses series.
Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin's manoeuvrings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit – and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.
As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords – and hunt for allies in unexpected places.
In this thrilling third book in the #1 New York Times bestselling series from Sarah J. Maas, the earth will be painted red as mighty armies grapple for power over the one thing that could destroy them all.

I was terrified to read A Court of Wings and Ruin. Why? Well, it’s relatively simple, or at least it seemed that way at the time. You see, I had fallen in love with these characters and I didn’t know if I wanted to see if anything terrible happened. After everything, they’ve gone through, fought for, dreamed of, I just couldn’t handle it if they lost it all. Which, after reading a majority of Maas’ work, felt like a genuine possibility.

But, to put it bluntly, I loved it.

I loved the complexity of the characters, the depth of their relationships, their motives. I loved the world Maas created, the legends, the lore, and its inhabitants.

Yet the crowning glory of A Court of Wings and Ruin was the grand final battle for Prythian. Built up throughout the narrative (and throughout the series), the courts’ animosity and overall dynamics were key to shaping the future of Feyre’s world. Not to mention downright fascinating. I loved the vastly different personalities and how each event forced them to move forward as a character, to develop. Even the most minor characters went through transformations that were vital to the finale.

Feyre and Rhysand’s relationship won me over long ago, but admittedly it was a hard battleA Court of Wings and Ruin solidified it. Theirs was a partnership of equals, a relationship based on not only love but a deep respect for each other. Rhys helped Feyre find who she was instead of treating her like a china doll and she pulled him out of the trauma he had lived in for so long.

That’s what I love about Maas’ work. Her heroines (because each book has more than one) are powerful, complex, passionate women. They don’t shirk responsibility or feel the need to apologize for who they are. These independent women are Maas’ legacy, one that constantly inspires me.

After finishing A Court of Wings and Ruin, I wat more. I want to read the series, again and again, to find more; the lore, the nuances I might have missed. In the end, I can’t wait to return to Prythian

4 Stars

Posted November 15, 2017 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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November 14, 2017

10 Books I’d Love to Share with My Future Kids

Top Ten Tuesday

While kids are still a bit off for M and I, I already know exactly what books I want to share with my future kids. From family traditions to new favorites, here are the top ten books I can’t wait to share.

Come to the Doctor, Harry

A longtime family favorite, Come to the Doctor, Harry is a book from my childhood and inspired the name of my parents’ big grey tabby.

Amelia Bedelia

This story of a wacky, disorganized mail was another childhood favorite. This story and its corresponding series I loved throughout grade school. When a girlfriend had a book-themed baby shower earlier this year, we were asked to bring our favorite childhood story. Amelia immediately came to mind.

“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy

One of M’s fondest childhood memories is reading this series aloud with his mom. She even did all the voices! It’s a tradition I would love to carry on.

The “Harry Potter” series

A strong female heroine, powerful underdog story, and a school of magic? You can bet this is on my list.

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret

Judy Blume got me through a lot of pre-teen crises, especially Are You There, God?, so I know it’s a must-read for any child of mine.

The Diary of A Young Girl

While this isn’t an easy read by any means, I feel it’s an extraordinarily important one. I read this in sixth grade and it sparked my interest in history and nonfiction. Either way, this is a book that is necessary for our next generation to read.

Tuck Everlasting

Admittedly, I didn’t love this book at the time, but the older I get, the more I appreciate the lessons hidden in its pages.

The Giver

Another book that I might not have loved as a kid, but appreciate more now.

Jane Eyre

I know, I know – this isn’t exactly a kid’s book. At twelve years old, I read it and fell in love with not only Jane’s story, but the more gothic style writing, romances, and just who was in the attic…

What books are on your list?

Posted November 14, 2017 by Ellen in top ten tuesday / 0 Comments
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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
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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
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October 13, 2017

The History of Fairy Tales | Beauty and the Beast

the stats

first recorded version: 1740

author: Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve

original title: “La Belle et la Bête”

 

the story

Once upon a time, a young girl lived with her wealthy merchant father and six siblings. The two oldest sisters, wicked at heart, treated book-loving Beauty like a servant instead of their sister. Soon, their father loses his ships in a storm and is forced to move his family away from their lavish lifestyle to a small home. However, years later he discovers one of the presumably-doomed ships from the missing fleet has returned, so he sets off to investigate. Before leaving, he asks each of his children what they would like for a present upon his return. Beauty merely asks for a rose.

On the way home to his children, the merchant gets lost and stumbles across a gorgeous palace. When the door opens, he takes advantage to get out of the storm and spend the night. As he is about to leave, he spots a rose garden and plucks a flower for his youngest daughter. Unfortunately, this decision comes with a price: his death or, on the condition she never knows the bargain, his daughter’s life. The merchant chooses the latter and resumes his journey home.

Beauty, learning of the bargain, heads to the castle to uphold her end of the deal. The Beast greats her as mistress of the manor and, at the conclusion of every evening, asks her to marry him. She politely declines.

Beauty spends her days with the Beast, her nights haunted by a mysterious, handsome prince who demands to know why she consistently denies the Beast’s offer of marriage. Yet she begins to long for home and asks permission to leave the castle for a visit to her family. The Beast agrees, giving her an enchanted ring that she need only turn three times to return, and a magic mirror.

Beauty’s sisters are green with envy when she returns and devise a plan to compromise her life with the Beast. They convince Beauty to stay past her original plan. When Beauty uses the mirror to check on the Beast, she discovers he is lying unconscious, hurting from a broken heart. She returns and, crying, professes her love for him. As her tears fall on him, the curse is broken, and he becomes a man again. They are married and live happily ever after.

the inspiration

While Beauty and the Beast may have been influenced by the popular 2nd-century story of “Cupid and Psyche,” it was also supposedly intended to prepare young girls in 18th century France for an arranged marriage (source). Make of that what you will.

the versions around the world

Without a doubt, this tale is as old as time…and just as varied.

  • The Pig King by Giovanni Francesco, Italy
  • The Scarlet Flower by Sergey Aksakov, Russia (1858)
  • Beauty and the Beast…The Story Retold by Laura E. Richards, England (1886)

did you know?

  • Disney’s Beast is a mashup of many different animals
  • While the story was first recorded in 1740, historians believe it originated some 400 years ago
  • Beauty and the Beast is among the first pieces of literature that reflect the changing social norm surrounding appearance

takeaways

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover

Image result for beauty and the beast gif

Posted October 13, 2017 by Ellen in history of fairy tales / 0 Comments
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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
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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
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October 10, 2017

Top 10 Favorite Fall Book Covers

Top Ten Tuesday

Fall means changing colors, longer nights, and afternoons cuddled up with a book. So it makes perfect sense that my favorite book covers come fall integrate strong jewel tones, heavy contrasts and amazing typography.

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)

One Tiny Lie (Ten Tiny Breaths, #2)

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places

Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes (Rose Gardner Mystery #1)

Three Dark Crowns (Three Dark Crowns, #1)

Roses (The Tales Trilogy, #1)

The Star-Touched Queen (The Star-Touched Queen, #1)

A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic, #2)

The Great Hunt (Eurona Duology, #1)

Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul

What are your favorite fall book covers?

Posted October 10, 2017 by Ellen in top ten tuesday / 0 Comments
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October 9, 2017

Review | Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

Review | Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia LevensellerDaughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller
Series: Daughter of the Pirate King, #1
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends, February 2017
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
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There will be plenty of time for me to beat him soundly once I’ve gotten what I came for.

Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain Alosa deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship.

More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the Daughter of the Pirate King.

Let’s be honest. The helpless damsel-in-distress story was getting a little worn out. It’s the age of Hermione, of heroines who aren’t waiting for the strong male hero to sweep down and save the day. Not that I’m opposed to strong male heroes. But when the heroine is a fighter, well, that’s my kind of story.

Levenseller’s Daughter of the Pirate King tells the story of Alosa, daughter of the famed pirate king and scrappy pirate captain in her own right. Dispatched to retrieve the map to long-hidden treasure, Alosa, disguised, allows herself to be captured and swept onto the enemy ship.

At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of Alosa. She was blunt to the point of painful, and her callousness towards her rented crew bothered me so I almost returned the book to the library unfinished. But Levenseller slowly revealed the motives, scars, and dreams behind her rough’n’ready heroine, and I was instantly caught in the story. Alosa was determined, reckless, brave to the point of stupid, and unsure about falling in love with the man she was supposed to hate.

I loved how Levenseller nurtured Riden, the first mate of the enemy ship and son of the lost-treasure pirate. It wasn’t quick, visible, or easy (definitely not easy). It was a slow-burning evolution of trust, respect, and attracting. This unexpected combination hit the jackpot and created the compelling narrative that I just can’t get enough of.

When I thought I had Alosa figured out, knew all her secrets, she threw another one at me. The plot twists and turns in the last half of the novel (expected). Some of these I loved, but others felt like just too much. It was overload like Levenseller was trying to cram everything in before the end. If the pacing had settled out more, it wouldn’t have felt so cramped.

Either way, I’ve got Daughter of the Siren Queen on my wishlist, and I can’t wait. Levenseller is quickly becoming one of my top must-by YA authors.

4 Stars

Posted October 9, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 7, 2017

Weekend Reading #5

 

To say it’s been a hard week would be a gross understatement. The tragedy in Vegas is unspeakably heartbreaking and the (predictable) backlash of politics just makes me tired. From Puerto Rico’s struggle to get back on its feet (if you want to help, see below) to the oncoming Tropical Storm Nate, Mother Nature is giving us a run for our money. So after a personally difficult week at work and feeling the struggle of humankind, I’m going to take a break from the news today, take stock, and be grateful.

 

Posted October 7, 2017 by Ellen in weekend reading / 2 Comments
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October 6, 2017

Review | Vienna Waltz by Teresa Grant

Review | Vienna Waltz by Teresa GrantVienna Waltz by Teresa Grant
Series: Rannoch/Fraser Publication Order, #4
Publisher: Kensington, April 2011
Pages: 436
Format: Paperback
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Nothing is fair in love and war. . .

Europe's elite have gathered at the glittering Congress of Vienna--princes, ambassadors, the Russian tsar--all negotiating the fate of the continent by day and pursuing pleasure by night. Until Princess Tatiana, the most beautiful and talked about woman in Vienna, is found murdered during an ill-timed rendezvous with three of her most powerful conquests. . .

Suzanne Rannoch has tried to ignore rumors that her new husband, Malcolm, has also been tempted by Tatiana. As a protégé of France's Prince Talleyrand and attaché for Britain's Lord Castlereagh, Malcolm sets out to investigate the murder and must enlist Suzanne's special skills and knowledge if he is to succeed. As a complex dance between husband and wife in the search for the truth ensues, no one's secrets are safe, and the future of Europe may hang in the balance. . .

Realistically, there’s no way to learn the entire history of the world in the typical K-12, four-year college education. I get that. But when I come across historical events like the Congress of Vienna, portrayed in Teresa Grant’s Vienna Waltz, I wish we could.

A little background

From November 1814 to June 1815, Europe’s latest and greatest met in Vienna to work together to create peace in the war-torn continent. Among them were Austria, Britain, France, and Russia. One can only imagine the drama.

 

One like Grant. Her Vienna Waltz opens with the tsar’s paramour, Princess Tatiana, is found murdered in her apartments, Suzanne and Malcolm Rannoch, British attache, find themselves on the hunt for the killer. Haunted by their own rocky marriage of convenience, a building attraction, the whispers of Malcolm’s relationship with Tatiana, and not to mention the monumental task of navigating through sticky social situations, their mission is far from easy.

The dance has, in other words, begun.

Vienna Waltz would have caught my attention regardless, due to the prospect of a new piece of history to discover. But it was the drama, the need to know just how Malcolm and Suzanne turned out, that kept me reading. With the massive amount of characters that stole the spotlight, their story kept the novel grounded.

Unfortunately, like so many historical fiction novels, Vienna Waltz fell victim to the dreaded info dumping. Some details helped portray the atmosphere, the setting, the mood. But others became too much and, instead of bringing the story to light, weighed it down.

For those who like a little bit of intrigue with their history, Vienna Waltz will hit the spot.

3 Stars

Posted October 6, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 5, 2017

Review | Gone by Jonathan Kellerman

Review | Gone by Jonathan KellermanGone (Alex Delaware #20) by Jonathan Kellerman
Publisher: Ballantine Books, January 1st 1970
Pages: 365
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Now the incomparable team of psychologist Alex Delaware and homicide cop Milo Sturgis embark on their most dangerous excursion yet, into the dark places where risk runs high and blood runs cold ... a story tailor-made for the nightly news: Dylan Meserve and Michaela Brand, young lovers and fellow acting students, vanish on the way home from a rehearsal. Three days later, the two of them are found in the remote mountains of Malibu --- battered and terrified after a harrowing ordeal at the hands of a sadistic abductor.
The details of the nightmarish event are shocking and brutal: The couple was carjacked at gunpoint by a masked assailant and subjected to a horrific regimen of confinement, starvation and assault. But before long, doubts arise about the couple's story, and as forensic details unfold, the abduction is exposed as a hoax. Charged as criminals themselves, the aspiring actors claim emotional problems, and the court orders psychological evaluation for both.
Michaela is examined by Alex Delaware, who finds that her claims of depression and stress ring true enough. But they don't explain her lies, and Alex is certain that there are hidden layers in this sordid psychodrama that even he hasn't been able to penetrate. Nevertheless, the case is closed --- only to be violently reopened when Michaela is savagely murdered. When the police look for Dylan, they find that he's gone. Is he the killer or a victim himself? Casting their dragnet into the murkiest corners of L.A., Delaware and Sturgis unearth more questions than answers --- including a host of eerily identical killings. What really happened to the couple who cried wolf? And what bizarre and brutal epidemic is infecting the city with terror, madness, and sudden, twisted death?

If you disappeared, would anyone notice?

That’s the gamble young lovers  Dylan Meserve and Michaela Brand risk when they stage their own abduction and horrific ordeal. The romance of their harrowing escape fades away as they tell their story over and over to the police and, slowly, it falls apart. When the real story emerges, Michaela Brand is sent to forensic psychologist Alex Delaware.

You’d think that would be the entire story, right? It’s got tension, drama, even tragic(cally misled) young lovers – the whole nine yards. But you’d be wrong, as I was – all this occurs in the first few chapters of the book.

When I picked up Jonathan Kellerman’s Gone, I was looking for another police procedural to fill the void between “In Death” releases and the wait until my latest Sue Grafton request arrived at the library hold shelf. Alex Delaware, with his background in psychology and massive story library, felt like the right fit.

Maybe it’s because I started on book 20, but Alex and I… well, we just didn’t jive. Not that I disliked him – quite the opposite. But he felt like a peripheral character in his own series, so on the fringe that I forgot about him. He fell into the passive narration too often instead of the active storyteller that I longed for.

Michaela, Dylan and the entire cast of characters that made appearances in Gone captivated me. They were fascinating, terrifying, and entirely too real for my comfort. (Let’s just say I got up to double check the locks more than once that night.)

I loved the dive into the psychological element of crime that Gone takes; it brings a new element to the standard police procedural. Who better to examine the psyches of a criminal than a forensic psychologist?

Ultimately, I think I need to give Alex another go. But this time, I think I’ll start at the beginning.

4 Stars

Posted October 5, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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