March 27, 2017

Review | Her Darkest Nightmare by Brenda Novak

Review | Her Darkest Nightmare by Brenda NovakHer Darkest Nightmare by Brenda Novak
Series: The Evelyn Talbot Chronicles, #1
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks, August 2016
Pages: 407
Format: Paperback
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THE HUNT FOR A SERIAL KILLER
Evelyn Talbot knows that a psychopath can look perfectly normal. She was only sixteen when her own boyfriend Jasper imprisoned and tortured her—and left her for dead. Now an eminent psychiatrist who specializes in the criminal mind, Evelyn is the force behind Hanover House, a maximum-security facility located in a small Alaskan town. Her job puts her at odds with Sergeant Amarok, who is convinced that Hanover is a threat to his community…even as his attraction to beautiful Evelyn threatens to tear his world apart.

BEGINS WITH AN ESCAPE FROM HER PAST
Then, just as the bitter Alaskan winter cuts both town and prison off from the outside world, the mutilated body of a local woman turns up. For Amarok, this is the final proof he needs: Hanover has to go. Evelyn, though, has reason to fear that the crime is a personal message to her—the first sign that the killer who haunts her dreams has found her again. . .and that the life she has so carefully rebuilt will never be the same…

Despite her career working in the insane asylum, Evelyn Talbot thinks her darkest nightmare is behind her. She survived brutal torture and imprisonment at the hands of her high school boyfriend (after he killed her best friends in cold blood) and rebuilt her life to study those who can’t resist the call of the kill. But when asylum staff and townspeople from the small Alaskan town start to go missing, Evelyn fears the worst: her past is back to haunt her.

Here’s the thing about Her Darkest Nightmare: it has all the elements to be an insanely (no pun intended) creepy, heartstoppingly thrilling, breathtakingly romantic story. But it isn’t. Why? Evelyn.

Evelyn had so many issues. Granted, yes, she had a terrible event in her teenage years that would haunt anyone for the rest of their God-given days. Yes, she pulled herself together pretty well. But it’s the massive amounts of neurosis coupled with an unsympathetic, flat character that takes all the wind out of the story’s sails.

She can’t date Amarok, the cute Alaska State Trooper, because he’s younger than she is. I don’t know quite where that one came from – it’s never really explained except she’s afraid of being judged. She can’t be alone. Okay, this one makes sense, especially in the Alaskan wilderness. But then why on earth do you build a cottage on the edge of town with an unreliable snow car (a BMW, for heaven’s sake) and then whine when you can’t get home? She can’t connect well with others in the town/the asylum. Again, okay – she’s had some traumatic experiences. But she whimpers (there’s really no other word for it) whenever someone looks at her funny. When she does grow a backbone and stand up for herself, it’s so out of character that the whole story seemed off.

The reason the character development was so sorely lacking lay at the door of one key element: the dialogue. It was forced, awkward, and kept pulling me out of the story. I was keenly aware I was reading words on a page, not enveloped in a world of snow, sexy troopers, and murderous psychopaths.

Amaork had the most promise but he too suffered from Her Darkest Nightmare‘s stilted dialogue. I wanted MORE, more PASSION, more FIRE, more THRILL. And ended up turning this book back into the library early.

Novak’s latest just didn’t measure up for me. Maybe I’ll stick to her contemporary romances.

2 Stars

Posted March 27, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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March 25, 2017

Weekend Reading | 03.25.17

Thank goodness it’s finally the weekend! Heading back to work after the honeymoon was trickier than I expected, so all I want to do today is drink coffee and read. You too? Fab. Here’s some of the top stories and post from the past week to enjoy with your first (or second or third) cup o’joe.

Cheers to the weekend! What are your big plans?

Posted March 25, 2017 by Ellen in weekend reading / 0 Comments
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March 24, 2017

Review | Dream Lake by Lisa Kleypas

Review | Dream Lake by Lisa KleypasDream Lake by Lisa Kleypas
Series: Friday Harbor, #3
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin, August 2012
Pages: 374
Format: Paperback
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They say that opposites attract. But what happens when one of them has been devastated by betrayal and the other is so damaged and jaded that his heart is made of stone? In New York Times bestselling author Lisa Kleypas's Dream Lake, readers well enter the world of Friday Harbor, an enchanting town in the Pacific Northwest where things are not quite as they seem and where true love might just have a ghost of a chance. . . .
Alex Nolan is about as bitter and cynical as they come. One of three Nolan brothers who call Friday Harbor home, he's nothing like Sam or Mark. They actually believe in love; they think the risk of pain is worth the chance of happiness. But Alex battles his demons with the help of a whiskey bottle, and he lives in his own private hell. And then, a ghost shows up. Only Alex can see him. Has Alex finally crossed over the threshold to insanity?
Zoë Hoffman is as gentle and romantic as they come. When she meets the startlingly gorgeous Alex Nolan, all her instincts tell her to run. Even Alex tells her to run. But something in him calls to Zoë, and she forces him to take a look at his life with a clear eye and to open his mind to the possibility that love isn't for the foolish.
The ghost has been existing in the half-light of this world for decades. He doesn't know who he is, or why he is stuck in the Nolans' Victorian house. All he knows is that he loved a girl once. And Alex and Zoë hold the key to unlocking a mystery that keeps him trapped here.
Zoë and Alex are oil and water, fire and ice, sunshine and shadow. But sometimes it takes only a glimmer of light to chase away the dark, and sometimes love can reach beyond time, space, and reason to take hold of hearts that yearn for it. . . .

Dream Lake’s Alex Nolan is having a bad day.

Or rather, more like a bad couple months.

Okay, a bad year. His wife has left him and is kicking him out the house to put it up for sale. His construction business is floundering because rumors of his drinking are spreading. He can’t get his mind off the beautiful chef at the B&B and, oh yeah: he’s being haunted.

On the surface, Dream Lake‘s romantic plotline is fairly predictable. Broken man finds loving woman to heal his wounds. I’m okay with that. In fact, I’ve even a fan of the cookie cutter plot because it allows so much room for creativity. And Kleypas has plenty of creativity, namely the ghost.

The ghost is a unique plot twist. He has no idea who is he, why he seems to be tied to the house (then Alex), or if he can move on to the next life. In short, he’s the perfect foil for grumpy, defensive Alex, who would probably throw a hammer at your head if you looked at him funny.

Yet the ghost isn’t enough to make Dream Lake memorable. His story alone? Fabulous. Intertwined with the fairly mundane and – dare I say it? – predictable romance between Alex and Zoe (aforementioned loving woman)? It’s not enough.

The thing about Zoe and Alex is that they weren’t exciting. There wasn’t a new tweak to the stereotypical characters, aside from Alex being haunted. Alex is mean to Zoe, Alex kisses Zoe, Zoe cooks for Alex, and here we are.

From Kleypas’ past books, I expected more. More zing, more banter, deeper characters. With that, Dream Lake could have been great. As is, it’s okay.

3 Stars

Posted March 24, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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March 23, 2017

Review | First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Review | First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsFirst Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars, #8
Publisher: William Morrow, August 2016
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
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Piper Dove is a woman with a dream—to become the best detective in the city of Chicago. First job? Trail former Chicago Stars quarterback, Cooper Graham. Problem? Graham’s spotted her, and he’s not happy.
Which is why a good detective needs to think on her feet. “The fact is...I’m your stalker. Not full-out barmy. Just...mildly unhinged.”

Piper soon finds herself working for Graham himself, although not as the bodyguard he refuses to admit he so desperately needs. Instead, he’s hired her to keep an eye on the employees at his exclusive new nightclub. But Coop’s life might be in danger, and Piper’s determined to protect him, whether he wants it or not. (Hint: Not!) If only she weren’t also dealing with a bevy of Middle Eastern princesses, a Pakistani servant girl yearning for freedom, a teenager who just wants to fit in, and an elderly neighbor demanding Piper find her very dead husband.

And then there’s Cooper Graham himself, a legendary sports hero who always gets what he wants—even if what he wants is a feisty detective hell bent on proving she’s as tough as he is.

From the bustling streets of Chicago to a windswept lighthouse on Lake Superior to the glistening waters of Biscayne Bay, two people who can’t stand to lose will test themselves and each other to discover what matters most.

Don’t judge this book by it’s cover…or rather, it’s title. I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little put off by the nursery rhyme title (even M raised his eyebrows at me when he saw the cover), but First Star is one of SEP’s best.

Why? Her characters.

Like each of her novels, First Star is entirely character-driven. I loved Piper Dove, struggling private investigator with a soft heart but stubborn nature. Cooper Graham, retired star quarterback who is trying to break into the nightclub business, appears to be her exact opposite, but they are essentially two peas in a pod: soft on the inside, hard on the outside. And believe me, that made for some intense tension.

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But Phillips didn’t rely on that tension to carry the novel. It’s the wacky characters, from Piper to her elderly neighbor Berni, to Cooper and Jada, the teenage “assassain” who befriends Piper when she moves in. There’s an element of reality in the wackiness, one that both brings the characters and story alive.

I loved how both Piper and Coop go through separate heroic journeys, yet use each other as support. Piper’s initial friendship with Coop allows her to slowly let down her defenses she’s held up for so long, and Piper’s instinct to protect him lets Coop realize it’s okay to rely on someone else (well, someone who’s not in football pads).

The cameos from other characters in the Chicago Stars series cracked me up, especially Heath‘s role in Piper and Coop’s relationship. It created a kind of closure in the series, and since I think SEP originally intended this to be the final Chicago Stars novel, it fit.

Whether you are kinda into contemporary romance or a major fan (*raises hand*) First Star is simply a must read. From the hilariously relatable characters and original plotlines to the breathtaking romance, SEP’s latest is a must.

5 Stars

Posted March 23, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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March 22, 2017

If We Were Having Coffee | 2017 Update

if we were having coffee

 

Oh, hey there.

I know it’s been a while, and first, I’m so sorry to drop off the face of the (bookish) planet like that! It wasn’t my intention – I actually had my editorial calendar filled out for the first three months of the year. But you know how good intentions go…

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Anyway. A lot happened in the first few months of the year. First:

I GOT MARRIED!

After 10 months of wedding planning – aka debating about colors, cake flavors, and outfits, oh my! – it finally arrived, and it couldn’t have been more beautiful. The weather cooperated (we had our fingers crossed the outside venue would work out!) and everything was perfect.

Also,

I got a new job!

Yep. In February. So in the midst of the wedding planning madness, I made the leap and transferred to a new company because, ya know, one can’t have enough stress. Luckily, my new managers were understanding and found a way for me to be off for the wedding and honeymoon.

So, to put it simply:

I haven’t had nearly enough time to sleep, let alone read. Fortunately, I got to sneak in reads on my lunch break and when waiting for the wedding coordinator (brides and grooms – get a wedding coordinator. I am not kidding. She saved my sanity). Be on the lookout for these book reviews:

  • Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
  • Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James
  • Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
  • Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
  • Sparking the Fire by Kate Meader
  • Dream Lake by Lisa Kleypas
  • The Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester
  • The Thousandth Floor by Katherine McGee

annnnd a bunch of other books I need to write reviews on from a while ago.

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So stay tuned, stick around, and chime in. I’d love to hear from you.

Posted March 22, 2017 by Ellen in the canon talks / 0 Comments
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March 21, 2017

Unputdownable! Top 10 Books I Read in One Sitting

Top Ten Tuesday

In the bookish world, there are good books, and then there are GOOD books. The difference? The GOOD books suck you in, dig their claws in, and force you to hang on for the ride.

While that’s not the most pleasant image in the world, most will agree it’s fairly accurate. Here are the top ten books that grabbed me from page one and just wouldn’t let go.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

I read this book in seven hours. From the moment it was dropped on the doorstep to when I turned the final page on Rowling’s work, I didn’t move. This is the only book I know the read time for and one I’ve read again and again.

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner

Space opera meets Romeo and Juliet? Yes, please. Kaufman and Spooner’s unique take on a standard love story blew me away.

Kiss of the Highlander by Karen Marie Moning

Perfect for those longing for an Outlander fix, Moning’s first Highlander book is a fabulous mix of sexual tension, beautiful atmospheres, and time-traveling Scottish warriors.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

YA romcoms, meet your match in Rowell’s simply stunning tale of two teenagers, both from uniquely different worlds, who find a genuine meaning of love and friendship in each other. Just thinking about it makes me *sigh.*

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich

Need a little silly? Janet Evanovich’s introduction to the goofy, trouble-attracting bounty hunter Stephanie Plum hits the spot. Bonus: It’s short enough to read on your next flight.

Kiss an Angel by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

If you haven’t already met Phillips, her Kiss An Angel is an excellent introduction to the queen of relatable romantic comedy, chockful of funny characters, detailed plots, and lots of laughs. This circus-based romance is no different.

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Think of Hal fondly, but long for an updated version of the story? Add in some YA romance, unique storytelling, and a thrilling plot, and you’ve got what might be my new favorite author pair. Also included: Gemina

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

An uncertain young girl caught between the forces of time and the family who rules it, Passenger is a must read for any time travel, Outlander, or YA fantasy lover.

The Obsession by Nora Roberts

True crime lovers, unite! Okay, so this book isn’t a true crime, but the investigative look at how the crime affects the criminal’s family is purely fascinating. The atmospheric small town setting and the spunky heroine are just a bonus.

Tailored for Trouble by Mimi Jean Palmfiloff

What happens when a hardworking girl whose business is falling apart has to rely on the one man she swore she’d never depend on? Trouble.

Posted March 21, 2017 by Ellen in top ten tuesday / 2 Comments
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January 23, 2017

Review | Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

Review | Dragonfly in Amber by Diana GabaldonDragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
Series: Outlander #2
Publisher: Bantam, August 2001
Pages: 743
Format: Paperback
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

 With her now-classic novel Outlander, Diana Gabaldon introduced two unforgettable characters—Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser—delighting readers with a story of adventure and love that spanned two centuries. Now Gabaldon returns to that extraordinary time and place in this vivid, powerful follow-up to Outlander.  DRAGONFLY IN AMBER  For nearly twenty years Claire Randall has kept her secrets. But now she is returning with her grown daughter to Scotland’s majestic mist-shrouded hills. Here Claire plans to reveal a truth as stunning as the events that gave it birth: about the mystery of an ancient circle of standing stones... about a love that transcends the boundaries of time... and about Jamie Fraser, a Scottish warrior whose gallantry once drew a young Claire from the security of her century to the dangers of his.   Now a legacy of blood and desire will test her beautiful copper-haired daughter, Brianna, as Claire’s spellbinding journey of self-discovery continues in the intrigue-ridden Paris court of Charles Stuart... in a race to thwart a doomed Highlands uprising... and in a desperate fight to save both the child and the man she loves.

Claire Randall Frasier has lived the past twenty years believing that Jamie was dead. And finally, she has gathered the courage to go back to Scotland for the first time in nearly two decades to discover what happened to him at the Battle of Culloden.

Dragonfly in Amber is, quite simply, an emotional roller coaster ride. Gabaldon’s narrative switches between 1968 Claire, a woman who is trying to make it work after she loses the love of her life and 1740s Claire, trying desperately to stop the fall of Scotland. While the same women, these two characters are vastly different. It’s hard to believe t

While the same women, these two characters are vastly different. It’s hard to believe that 1740s Claire could be considered naive, considering what happens to her in Outlander, but she embodied it again and again as they worked to stop Charles. Yet naive doesn’t mean stupid. I loved how she stood up for herself and others in a society where women weren’t often allowed or encouraged to do so.

On the other hand, 1968 Claire was charming, engaging, and initially allowed a little of her sorrow to show. All naivete was gone, erased by the loss of her husband, a scar she hid well. It’s this Claire, this dynamic, fascinating character, that was the star of Dragonfly.

She was cool and composed on the outside, an exterior that hid rioting emotions: guilt, wistfulness, joy, and sorrow. It was only once she, Brianna, and Roger started their hunt for Jamie that this calm composure began to crack.

It’s been a while since a book made me feel the way Dragonfly did. From the battle scenes of 1740s Scotland to the drafty graveyards of the 60s’, Gabaldon tugged – no, YANKED – at the heartstrings.

Yet the second Outlander installment did have its faults. There were pages of information, large sections filled with what felt like the most minute details of the French court, the Scottish towns, and everywhere in between, that could have been summarized or possibly skipped entirely. Maybe this is more of personal preference; I wanted the story to get on with it.

In retrospect, that was a minor detail. The beauty of Dragonfly in Amber isn’t in the particulars of the setting or the descriptions of dress. Instead, it lay in Claire, a woman torn between two marriages, two times, and two worlds.

4 Stars

Posted January 23, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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January 9, 2017

Review | The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Review | The Fate of the Tearling by Erika JohansenThe Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Series: The Queen of the Tearling, #3
Publisher: Harper, November 2016
Pages: 478
Format: Hardcover
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In less than a year, Kelsea Glynn has grown from an awkward teenager into a powerful monarch and a visionary leader.
And as she has come into her own as the Queen of the Tearling, she has transformed her realm. But in her quest to end corruption and restore justice, she has made many enemies - chief among them the evil and feared Red Queen, who ordered the armies of Mortmesne to march against the Tear and crush them.
To protect her people from such a devastating invasion, Kelsea did the unthinkable - naming the Mace, the trusted head of her personal guards, Regent in her place, she surrendered herself and her magical sapphires to her enemy. But the Mace will not rest until he and his men rescue their sovereign from her prison in Mortmesne.
So, the endgame has begun and the fate of Queen Kelsea - and the Tearling itself - will be revealed...
With The Fate of the Tearling, Erika Johansen draws her unforgettable story full of magic and adventure to a thrilling close.

I have extremely mixed feeling about The Fate of the Tearling. One one hand, I loved it. On the other, well, let me explain.

In the first two books of the Tearling trilogy, Kelsea discovers that she is not just an ordinary girl – she’s the queen. As she grows into both herself and her reign, the Tearling faces an impending threat from Mortmesne, the terrifying country ruled by the Red Queen. Together with her second in command, the Mace, and her loyal guards, Kelsea takes the reins as she prepares her peaceful, utopian country for the fight of its life.

Kelsea herself goes through a tremendous transformation throughout the trilogy. She’s always a little rough, a little blunt, but she evolves from an uncertain girl into a strong young woman. That’s not to say she doesn’t have her insecurities; those moments of uncertainties are what reminds us of her humanity in Fate. It’s the moments she’s presented with an obvious choice in Fate that made me fall in love with her character even more.

Yet Johansen makes sure that Kelsea isn’t the end-all of the series. The side plots and more minor characters are powerful enough to carry the divided narrative of Fate, even occasionally making me wish they had more page time. Johansen made it clear that Fate isn’t just Kelsea’s story – it’s the Tearling’s.

I loved that Johansen makes room to tell the Tearling’s history, but as continued, I felt a little confused. Instead of the high fantasy I expected, Fate verged more into an alternate reality. There was talk of Boston, modern medicine, and other things common in today’s society, but unexpected in a world of swords, medieval battles and magic. The alternative timeline threw me, and I couldn’t quite get back on track.

That same disjointedness continued throughout the end of Fate. Instead of the ending I expected (even hoped for), Johansen threw us for a loop and closed out Kelsea’s story in an entirely unexpected way. Personally, I wasn’t a fan: it left me with more questions than answers, and I felt lost without certain plot closures. This unusual ending dropped my review from what could have been four or five stars to three.

What do you think of the ending? Did it fit the storyline? Or were you expecting the more traditional ending?

3 Stars

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

Start Your Engines | 2017 Reading Challenges

If we’re going to be honest, I failed MISERABLY during last year’s reading challenges. A combination of burnout, work, and plain, simple stress knocked me down. I tried to do too much on the blog and when I was trying to figure out everything in my personal life, my reading seriously suffered.

But this year, I’m taking it easy. This year, I’m going to fall back in love with reading. Join me?

POPSUGAR 2017 READING CHALLENGE

Created to help readers find more books outside their go-to genres, the PopSugar reading challenges have been on my mind for a long time, but I’ve never caught them at the beginning. Learn more about the 2017 challenge here and join the fun with #popsugarreadingchallenge!

Honestly, I was initially tempted to sign up for the whole kit ‘n’ caboodle, including the advanced section. Luckily, the rational side of my brain spoke up. I plan to read as much as I can of the first section of the list and then go from there.

I plan to pick the books for this challenge month-by-month to make it a little more fun. For January, I’m starting out with:

Carnival of SoulsThe Fate of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #3)

 

THE 2017 MODERN MRS. DARCY READING CHALLENGE

The 2017 Reading Challenge

 

The ultimate create-your-own reading challenge, the Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge has two different book lists to inspire your 2017 reading: reading for growth and reading for fun. Sign up here and follow along with #MMDreading.

Following my goal to find a little more fun both in books and life in 2017, I’m taking the reading for fun challenge. I’m hoping to read 12 books for this challenge, one a month.

The Modern Mrs Darcy 2017 Reading Challenge. Get more out of your reading life in 2017 with this choose-your-own-bookish-adventure challenge!

Wayfarer (Passenger, #2)Apprentice in Death (In Death, #43)Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One and Two (Harry Potter, #8)This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity, #1)A Thousand Pieces of You (Firebird, #1)The Hook Up (Game On, #1)Big Little LiesThe Time Traveler's WifeOn Writing: A Memoir of the CraftJust Imagine

 

THE 2017 DEBUT AUTHOR CHALLENGE

I fell in love with the Debut Author Challenge last year for one reason: I found so many new authors to love! The Debut Author Challenge introduces readers to new YA or new adult authors from around the globe. Sign up here and follow along with #2017DebAuthC!

 

I am challenging myself to read at least 10 of the 13 debuts I’ve picked out for 2017.

Shimmer and BurnSong of the CurrentToward a Secret SkyDaughter of the Pirate KingTo Catch a KillerWintersongCaraval (Caraval, #1)HeartstoneFrostblood (Frostblood Saga, #1)

No cover yet:

CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE READING CHALLENGE 2017

crr2017icon

Another of my favorite reading challenges, the Contemporary Romance reading challenge is for contemporary romance only – historical, sci-fi, paranormal, and romantic suspense does not count for this challenge. Since this challenge was how I discovered some new favorite contemporary romance authors last year, I can’t wait for this year’s reading! Join the fun here and follow along with #ContRom2017

I challenge myself to read a majority of new-to-me authors in this year’s challenge. I think I will go for the 3rd base level – 11-15 books.

Runaway Groom (I Do, I Don't)Royally Screwed (Royally, #1)Strong Signal (Cyberlove, #1)A Better Man (Sunshine Creek Vineyard, #1)Paige in ProgressSeven Day Fiancé (Love and Games, #2)

 

*post layout inspired by the beautiful challenge post over BookMark Lit!

Posted January 7, 2017 by Ellen in the canon talks / 0 Comments
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January 5, 2017

Review | Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Review | Under a Painted Sky by Stacey LeeUnder a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, March 2015
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.   This beautifully written debut is an exciting adventure and heart-wrenching survival tale. But above all else, it’s a story about perseverance and trust that will restore your faith in the power of friendship.

Under a Painted Sky is the tale of two girls, wronged and misjudged by society, hitting the open trail to leave their past behind. It’s a story full of friendship, brimming with buoyancy, and made of morals. I should have loved it.

I didn’t.

Initially, I was hooked. The drama of the hard last words Samantha said to her father, the danger she suddenly finds herself in, and the unlikely ally in Annamae was exactly what I wanted to read. It was engaging, fascinating, and so chockful of potential that I settled in for the long haul.

And then, rather abruptly, the bottom fell out from the story.

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All of that lovely potential disappeared. Samantha and Annamae, so ALIVE in the first pages of Under a Painted Sky deflated like someone let out their air. The narrative felt flat, rehearsed. I had the abject feeling of reading the dialogue instead of seeing the characters play out the scene in my mind.

Yet all this isn’t to say Under a Painted Sky is a bad book. It’s not. The descriptions of the Oregon Trail brought back memories of playing the game on bulky PCs in elementary school. The morals of the power of friendship, perseverance, and destiny are great, especially for the YA reader (this book’s target audience).

But after it failed to live up to the first few heart-pounding, emotionally wrenching pages, I was disappointed when it didn’t continue. I couldn’t get excited about the law, hot on Samantha and Annamae’s heels, or feel their concern when they worried their boyish disguises were slipping. I lost that connection with them and, without it, Under a Painted Sky couldn’t pull me back in.

2 Stars

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