Tag: drama

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
Tags: , , , , ,


November 28, 2014

The Canon Classics | Anna Karenia by Leo Tolstoy

Title: Anna Karenina
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Publication Date: 1877
Publisher: Penguin Books {this edition}
Source & Format: Owned; ebook
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Described by William Faulkner as the best novel ever written and by Fyodor Dostoevsky as “flawless,” Anna Karenina tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and must endure the hypocrisies of society. Set against a vast and richly textured canvas of nineteenth-century Russia, the novel’s seven major characters create a dynamic imbalance, playing out the contrasts of city and country life and all the variations on love and family happiness.


Anna Karenina is one of the few books that have always terrified me. Typically, a thick book with thin pages and tiny print is a intriguing challenge, but with Tolstoy’s reputation for detail and my own failed attempts to read this tome, I was a little more than skeptical to pick it up for November’s classic.


I didn’t expect to fall in love with Anna’s story. 


Anna’s quiet, kind nature instantly drew my attention – she was vibrant, flawed, loving and the slightest bit irresponsible. I felt like her marriage to Alexei represented the typical marriage of the time – a relationship built on friendship, not love – but her affair with Vronsky threw all of society’s conventions out of the window. There is a quietly rebellious nature to Anna that I enjoyed, a character element that made her stand out among the ohter female characters in the novel. 


There is a parallel story in Anna Karenina – Levin’s story. For me, Levin’s story was full of detail, describing the Russian farm life and a man struggling to find his way, but it was boring. I didn’t like Levin: he was skittish, a little selfish, and dull. His story was a great way to explain the world of 19th century Russia, but it didn’t have any attraction for me. I found myself skimming his chapters to get back to Anna’s story.


Motifs run rampant throughout this novel: the value of human life, society’s portrayal of marriage, gender issues. The one that stood out strongest to me? “Be careful what you wish for.” Life is rarely simple or straightforward.


I loved how Tolstoy used foreshadowing to create tension about upcoming events. There were small hints and clues hiding along the path that made the story’s tension amp up. Anna’s story flowed smoothly, making her world come alive around me. 



Posted November 28, 2014 by Ellen in the canon classics, Uncategorized / 0 Comments
Tags: , , ,


September 19, 2014

Review | The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

Title: The White Queen
Author: Philippa Gregory {website
Publication Date: April 2009
Publisher: Touchstone 
Series: The Cousins’ War {Book 1}
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Brother turns on brother to win the ultimate prize, the throne of England, in this dazzling account of the wars of the Plantagenets. They are the claimants and kings who ruled England before the Tudors, and now Philippa Gregory brings them to life through the dramatic and intimate stories of the secret players: the indomitable women, starting with Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen.

The White Queen tells the story of a woman of extraordinary beauty and ambition who, catching the eye of the newly crowned boy king, marries him in secret and ascends to royalty. While Elizabeth rises to the demands of her exalted position and fights for the success of her family, her two sons become central figures in a mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the missing princes in the Tower of London whose fate is still unknown.

I’m one of those people who would rather read the book before they watch the movie. When M bought me the STARZ version of Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen, I couldn’t wait to get started! As I watched the first episode, I knew I had to read the book. Gregory’s original novel was better than I could imagine. 

Elizabeth Woodville was, right off the bat, a strong woman. As a young widow, she stands under an oak tree to intercept the new king (from an enemy house), holding the hands of her two young fatherless boys. She had no idea what reception she would receive, but she stood out there, determined to make a difference for her boys. That strength, so innate to her personality, brought this story to life. 

My previous experience with Gregory’s novels tell the tales of Anne Boleyn, so to read a loving royal marriage was a surprise, a pleasant one. I adored the support and equality that was shown between King Edward and Queen Elizabeth, especially as there were many times where it wasn’t clear who their true friends were. This divide and false nature that ran throughout not only their court, but the entirety of England only served to bring the couple closer together. 

There is a tone of mysticism in The White Queen that I loved. Elizabeth’s family is rumored to be descendants of the sea goddess, Melusina, and therefore connected to the water. Elizabeth had an sense of magic, of premonition, that wove into the plot so well. The use of foreshadowing gave the book a darker, more mystical edge, creating a deeper world than the history books could provide. 

The White Queen is one of the few historical novels that I found myself completely immersed in. I brought it to work, read on my break. I wondered what on earth happened to the princes in the Tower while I waited for my orders to come up. I fell in love with Gregory’s novel and can’t wait to read the rest of The Cousins’ War series. 

THE RATING:

Posted September 19, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
Tags: , , , , ,


September 13, 2014

Review | Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

Title: Mrs. Poe
Author: Lynn Cullen {website}
Publication Date: April 2014
Publisher: Gallery Books
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

The triumphant success of Edgar Allan Poe & The Raven compels fledgling poet Frances Osgood to meet her literary idol, a mysterious, complicated man who soon has her under his seductive spell in an all-consuming affair. And when Edgar’s frail young wife breaks into their idyll to befriend her rival, Frances fears that deceiving Mrs. Poe may be as impossible as cheating death itself. . . 


I don’t like scary stories, so I wasn’t sure what to expect the first time I was introduced to Edgar Allan Poe. Without a doubt, even in our horror movie-loving society, Poe’s work is terrifying. His mastering of the atmosphere, however, is what keeps me returning again and again to his work. Cullen cultivates the same sort of tense, slightly dark atmosphere in her Mrs. Poe


Cullen’s writing created an atmosphere of dark corners, dimly lit nights, and shadowy figures, a world full of intrigue, mystery and secrets. Of course I gobbled it up. Even in the bright of day, scenes had this dark, fascinating edge that kept me turning pages. The use of Poe’s “The Raven” as an introduction to the novel provides not only the setting – right after Poe’s poem hits the height of popularity – but sets a dark, tense setting for this torrid romance. 


Frances Osgood, the protagonist and narrator of Mrs. Poe, has been in my peripheral, but I’ve never studied her work. She was an unknown to me, a woman trying to make her way in the world by her own mind: a feat in itself in 1840s America. She quickly became one of my favorite characters for one reason: there was always a war within herself. She battled her own demons, her struggles to maintain dignity in the face of her husband’s flagrant affairs, and eventually, her attraction to a married man. I would be hard (I would argue impossible) not to identify with Frances on some level, whether it be achieving dreams, lost love or pride. 


Virginia Poe, despite her sweet demeanor in public, is a powerful presence to compete with Frances’. Virginia scared the wits out of me. She had a way about her, an eerie and disturbing manner of discerning exactly what was going on without letting on how it bothered her. Her manner and connection to Poe made me constantly relate to Poe’s work I’ve read. After a while, chills ran up my arms every time she appeared on scene. At one moment, she was a young sick girl, lost in love for her mysterious husband. In another, she was laughing gaily in society, but glaring at Frances, making us both wonder at what she knew. Virginia, simply, was terrifying. 


I loved the romance. Oh, my heart. The tensions, the innuendos, the flirtations all built on top of each other until the affair between Frances and Poe finally burst forth. (Believe me; burst is the word.) There were so many factors against them, society was crying out in disbelief (nosy disbelief, is there is such a thing) but their passion burned through. That might be a tad melodramatic. Sorry. The romance and affair changed my entire perception of Poe; he became a human, a person, instead of a macabre writing machine. 


THE RATING:


Posted September 13, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , ,


August 7, 2014

Review | The Templar Salvation by Raymond Khoury

Title: The Templar Salvation
Author: Raymond Khoury {website}
Publication Date: October 2010
Publisher: Dutton Adult
Series: Templar {Book 2}
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Constantinople, 1203: As the rapacious armies of the Fourth Crusade lay siege to the city, a secretive band of Templars infiltrate the imperial library. Their target: a cache of documents that must not be allowed to fall into the hands of the Doge of Venice. They escape with three heavy chests, filled with explosive secrets that these men will not live long enough to learn. Vatican City, present day: FBI agent Sean Reilly infiltrates the Pope’s massive Vatican Secret Archives of the Inquisition. No one but the Pope’s trusted secondi get in-but Reilly has earned the Vatican’s trust, a trust he has no choice but to violate. His love, Tess Chaykin, has been kidnapped; the key to her freedom lays in this underground tomb, in the form of a document known as the Fondo Templari, a secret history of the infamous Templars.


My fascination with the Templars, Catholic Church, and the mysterious Vacation keeps me coming back to books like The Templar Salvation, but after finishing the second book in the series, I’m done with Raymond Khoury’s writing. The first installment in the series, The Last Templar, had its ups and downs, but was an okay read (it earned three stars in my book).


One of the major flaws with The Templar Salvation fell in Khoury’s constant struggle to bring his second novel to the glory of the first scene in The Last Templar. The awe and fear of those four horsemen riding into the Met and destroying everything in their path set such high expectations for not only the first book, but the entire series. The opening scene of The Templar Salvation follows in the exact path, but can’t summon up the suspense and mystery to live up to its predecessor. Instead of being riveted in my seat with my mind’s eye watching the catastrophe unfold, I focused on the mundane of the scene in the Vatican (occasionally comparing it with that scene in the film version of Angels and Demons when Tom Hanks gets stuck in one of the Vatican archives, but I had just watched the movie). The suspense was lacking, but the struggle to create it was obvious. 


I was disappointed with Tess and Sean’s relationship. We left them at the end of The Last Templar with a happily-ever-after of sorts, and the falling out that ensued during the period between books wasn’t necessary. It created a rift between the two characters that was never quite healed and made their chemistry’s mismash stick out like a sore thumb in the plot. The motives for the breakup were believable, but the motivations for reuniting felt too forced.


The action scenes redeemed the book more often than not. I loved the pacing, the suspense, and the brutality of some of the characters. These were the scenes when the book came alive in my hands. The only issue? Some of the scenes went on for far too long and became a little redundant. 


Unlike The Last Templar, The Templar Salvation never provides a proper introduction to the villain or his motives. One of the elements I loved in the first installment was the psychological background and motivations of Vance. His history made him come alive as a character; the villain of The Templar Salvation was a cardboard cutout. I didn’t understand his motives and had no sympathy for his character. 


By the end, I didn’t care anymore. I wanted it to be over. There were some redeeming qualities in the action scenes, but they weren’t enough to fix the book’s main issues. 


THE RATING:

WHY:
– lack of suspense
– poor character motivations 
– no intro to villain!
– action scenes were the highlight


Posted August 7, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
Tags: , , , , , ,


May 15, 2014

Review | Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Title: Bring Up the Bodies
Author: Hilary Mantel 
Publication Date: May 2012
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Series: Thomas Cromwell Trilogy {Book 2}

Source & Format: Owned; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Though he battled for seven years to marry her, Henry is disenchanted with Anne Boleyn. She has failed to give him a son and her sharp intelligence and audacious will alienate his old friends and the noble families of England. When the discarded Katherine dies in exile from the court, Anne stands starkly exposed, the focus of gossip and malice.

At a word from Henry, Thomas Cromwell is ready to bring her down. Over three terrifying weeks, Anne is ensnared in a web of conspiracy, while the demure Jane Seymour stands waiting her turn for the poisoned wedding ring. But Anne and her powerful family will not yield without a ferocious struggle. Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up the Bodies” follows the dramatic trial of the queen and her suitors for adultery and treason. To defeat the Boleyns, Cromwell must ally with his natural enemies, the papist aristocracy. What price will he pay for Anne’s head?



THE CHARACTERS

The evolution of Cromwell’s personality in of itself is a story. I picked up this book right after reading Wolf Hall, so seeing the change in Cromwell’s person is extraordinary. He has evolved from a quiet man, a man devoted to servitude, to a man in power and well aware of it. Although Cromwell’s character occasionally strays into the unlikable, it’s the humanity that is always present in his actions, his words, that keeps him from wavering into villain territory. There are glimpses of the man from Wolf Hall, but they are woven into the complex character that has been so long overlooked in the Tudor saga. 

Cromwell’s character reigns supreme in Bring Up the Bodies, no doubt. The supporting cast of characters is strong and vibrant, providing plenty of drama for Cromwell’s character to react to. I know the story of Henry VIII, but to see how the man talked not only himself but all of England into following his actions created a character that borders upon childish. Anne herself wallows between pitiful and shrewish; the only flattering description of her is found near the end of the novel. Cromwell’s view of these major players in English history creates an unseen side of their humanity that makes these characters come alive off the page.

THE PLOT

Bring Up the Bodies follows the story of Anne Boleyn’s fall from grace to a tee. I appreciated Mantel’s focus on the particular ironies of the queen’s fall, especially in Cromwell’s observations. Mantel includes the various rumors of Anne’s presumed sorcery/witchcraft/what-have-you, and presents them all with the detached attention of a historian. Each rumor is mentioned and included in the story, but the novel’s focus remains on Cromwell and his motives.

Cromwell, for the most part, is interested in providing Henry with what he wants. The small squabble of his conscience and heart versus his head creates one of the most fascinating cases of man versus himself that I’ve seen outside of college. As the plot reaches it’s climax, the war within Cromwell intensifies, making the tension within Bring Up the Bodies even more powerful.

THE WRITING

After reading Mantel’s work, I will forever think of the main character as “he, Cromwell.” The vibrant characterization and unusual narrative style create an almost addictive quality about the book. I had a little trouble getting used to the writing style in the first novel, but the second installment in the trilogy was comfortable and familiar. I felt like I should portion this book out, like a child trying to make a candy stash last a little longer, but couldn’t help but gobble it up. 

THE VERDICT

I’m a fan. Not the fair-weather kind, but the diehard, paint on the face, all the way fan. Cromwell, a character that had previously remained in the background of my Tudor readings, finally takes charge of his part in the Tudor drama and makes a story perfect for the history buffs and drama lovers.

Posted May 15, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
Tags: , , , , ,


May 5, 2014

Review | The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C. Carleson

Title: The Tyrant’s Daughter
Author: J.C. Carleson
Publication Date: February 2014
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Source & Format: Netgalley; ebook
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble 

From a former CIA officer comes the riveting account of a royal Middle Eastern family exiled to the American suburbs

When her father is killed in a coup, 15-year-old Laila flees from the war-torn middle east to a life of exile and anonymity in the U.S. Gradually she adjusts to a new school, new friends, and a new culture, but while Laila sees opportunity in her new life, her mother is focused on the past. She’s conspiring with CIA operatives and rebel factions to regain the throne their family lost. Laila can’t bear to stand still as an international crisis takes shape around her, but how can one girl stop a conflict that spans generations? 

J.C. Carleson delivers a fascinating account of a girl—and a country—on the brink, and a rare glimpse at the personal side of international politics.



THE CHARACTERS

I made a friend my freshman year in high school who had just arrived from Lebanon. We immediately bonded; she has this bright, vibrant personalty that draws people to her like a magnet. As I read Laila’s transition to the American world of suburban dramas and high school, I remembered describing American slang and translating some of the more unusual phrases.

Laila was a pleasant surprise; her past has forced her to grow quickly beyond her teenage years in many ways. Laila’s journey from the somewhat sheltered girl in her country to new girl in the American high school was at once endearing and eye-opening. Her determination to see the truth in her new peers constantly fascinated me; she didn’t try to see the best in them, but simply who they were at heart. Watching the war within herself – keep true to the ways of her country or adopt the culture of her new home – was fascinating, especially when it formed into the characters of Amir and Ian. 





THE PLOT

Laila’s personal journey was the plot element that grabbed my attention the most: it was a situation I have rarely considered, and to see the world I know so well from her perspective made me think

My only complaint: I found it rather strange that Laila’s father’s death didn’t affect her more. Her memories show a close relationship with her father, but the story focuses on her relationship with her mother (intriguing in its own right), and her adaption to American culture; her father’s death made little impact on her. 

I loved the political side of the plot. It elevated this YA story above and beyond my expectations and kept all the characters busy with their own motives within the political realm. This particular plot element wove with Laila’s journey, making her (and me) realize that she isn’t quite as worldly as we both originally thought.

THE WRITING

The Tyrant’s Daughter is told from a vibrant, first person narrative. Carleson made sure that we knew the others’ characters motives as often as possible, painting a whole picture of the plot (which can be tricky with a first person POV). The writing was vibrant and engaging – I read the book in one night. 

THE VERDICT

 A must read. I loved Carleson’s The Tyrant’s Daughter. It’s an unusual YA book, but tops my list of must reads for young adults because of its message of finding oneself and Laila’s story is one for all. 

Posted May 5, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
Tags: , , , ,


April 3, 2014

Book Review | Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

Title: Whistling Past the Graveyard
Author: Susan Crandall {website
Publication Date: June 2013
Publisher: Gallery Books 
Source & Format: Library; Hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

The summer of 1963 begins like any other for nine-year-old Starla Claudelle. Born to teenage parents in Mississippi, Starla is being raised by a strict paternal grandmother, Mamie, whose worst fear is that Starla will turn out like her mother. Starla hasn’t seen her momma since she was three, but is convinced that her mother will keep her promise to take Starla and her daddy to Nashville, where her mother hopes to become a famous singer—and that one day her family will be whole and perfect.

When Starla is grounded on the Fourth of July, she sneaks out to see the parade. After getting caught, Starla’s fear that Mamie will make good on her threats and send her to reform school cause her to panic and run away from home. Once out in the country, Starla is offered a ride by a black woman, Eula, who is traveling with a white baby. She happily accepts a ride, with the ultimate goal of reaching her mother in Nashville.

As the two unlikely companions make their long and sometimes dangerous journey, Starla’s eyes are opened to the harsh realities of 1963 southern segregation. Through talks with Eula, reconnecting with her parents, and encountering a series of surprising misadventures, Starla learns to let go of long-held dreams and realizes family is forged from those who will sacrifice all for you, no matter if bound by blood or by the heart.



I admit that I had no idea what I was getting into when I picked up this book. I saw it when I was loading up my TBR on GoodReads, using the 2013 award winners to find new books. From my brief research, I found Whistling Past the Graveyard had a quirky, colorful, original cover, an interesting premise and set in a fascinating period of American history. What I didn’t expect was how I would come to fall in love with these characters and their world. 

THE CHARACTERS

Starla, our narrator, is a stubborn, bright, imaginative and innocent little girl. All she wants in the world is to be reunited with her mama and away from her grandma, Mamie, who only believes tough love is the way to go when rearing a child. Starla is a bright character right off the bat, and her narration of the world she lives in makes the book a fantastic read. I loved how her emotional journey matched the pitfalls of the physical hero’s journey she makes in Whistling. Her perspective is especially unique when she leaves the relative safety of her grandma’s home and begins mission to find her mama in Nashville.

As a child, Starla’s perspective is especially unique: she hasn’t been overly influenced by others’ opinions (except her very conservative grandma) or the news as the Civil Rights movement begins to spread across the South. As a white girl living in a white home, she has never truly been exposed to the treatment of African Americans across the country. As she discovers the world outside of her home, she tells the tale as fairly unbiased observer.

Eula, Starla’s partner in the heroic journey, has her own story to tell. She makes the transformation from a broken woman, longing for a family, to a strong character, comfortable in her own skin and looking to make her way in the world. At first, I didn’t really care for Eula because of her rash decision and her fear to stand up for herself; but when she breaks free of that fear, her character truly begins to shine.  She has the innate kindness that Starla has been searching for, and Starla has the strength that Eula needs to start her life over. They make a perfect team.

THE PLOT

Each character, no matter how minor, makes some sort of journey or completes a transformation in Whistling Past the Graveyard. My personal favorite was the character transformation of Starla’s dad; he goes from a minor role in the background to a game-changer in the latter half of the book. Both Eula and Starla’s personal journeys were incredible to read; it was especially intriguing to watch Starla grow from a young child to a girl who knows how to stand up for herself. 

The physical journey from Mississippi to Nashville kept the tension high and the pace moving in Whistling. Moving across the South let Crandall set up this historical aspects of the story, and keep each character moving on their personal stories. 

There’s a scene in the novel where Starla explains to Eula the meaning of “whistling past the graveyard” – essentially, the phrase means to distract yourself from your worst fears. Both Starla and Eula face their worst fears in Whistling, without a doubt. They learn how to face their fears, to cope with them, and eventually, how to stand up to them. This underlying theme in the book fascinated and inspired me from page one; if they could face their fears so bravely, so could I. 

THE WRITING

One of the more unique aspects of Whistling Past the Graveyard was the language and narrative voice. The entire book is written in Starla’s personal voice, slang, accent and all. As the book progressed, Starla’s vocabulary and voice changed, just a little, to show her character’s transformation. Reading the world through Starla’s eyes and hearing her voice in my head made this book impossible to put down; I just loved living in her world. 

THE VERDICT

A winner, through and through. I loved Crandall’s Whistling Past the Graveyard – the characters, the plot, and the themes all spoke to me. Starla’s unique narration on life during the beginning of the Civil Rights movement in the South was engaging and fascinating. 

Posted April 3, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
Tags: , , , , ,


February 20, 2014

Review: The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks

Title: The Longest Ride
Author: Nicholas Sparks {website}
Publication Date: September 2013
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Source & Format: Borrowed; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble 

Ira Levinson is in trouble. At ninety-one years old, in poor health and alone in the world, he finds himself stranded on an isolated embankment after a car crash. Suffering multiple injuries, he struggles to retain consciousness until a blurry image materializes and comes into focus beside him: his beloved wife Ruth, who passed away nine years ago. Urging him to hang on, she forces him to remain alert by recounting the stories of their lifetime together – how they met, the precious paintings they collected together, the dark days of WWII and its effect on them and their families. Ira knows that Ruth can’t possibly be in the car with him, but he clings to her words and his memories, reliving the sorrows and everyday joys that defined their marriage.

A few miles away, at a local rodeo, a Wake Forest College senior’s life is about to change. Recovering from a recent break-up, Sophia Danko meets a young cowboy named Luke, who bears little resemblance to the privileged frat boys she has encountered at school. Through Luke, Sophia is introduced to a world in which the stakes of survival and success, ruin and reward — even life and death – loom large in everyday life. As she and Luke fall in love, Sophia finds herself imagining a future far removed from her plans — a future that Luke has the power to rewrite . . . if the secret he’s keeping doesn’t destroy it first.

Ira and Ruth. Sophia and Luke. Two couples who have little in common, and who are separated by years and experience. Yet their lives will converge with unexpected poignancy, reminding us all that even the most difficult decisions can yield extraordinary journeys: beyond despair, beyond death, to the farthest reaches of the human heart.



When my mom handed this book over to me, I expected The Longest Ride to be a lot like Sparks’ other work: sweet yet intense romance, heartbreak, and a romantic ending. So I set out a special time to read this book. I even had a box of Kleenex on my desk when I opened the cover. Unfortunately, it was never used. I couldn’t connect with this book, no matter how many times I restarted it (a new one for me). 

THE CHARACTERS

The two couples that make up the story of this book are a lot like the ones of Sparks’ famous novel, The Notebook. Two different stories, weaving and eventually merging into one. The older couple, Ira and Ruth, were my favorite. There was this sweet, innocent air about a love that has lasted lifetimes about them, making their scenes the more enjoyable to read. I particularly enjoyed Ira; his commentary right after his car accident about life, love and death were endearing and honest. For me, he was the most fascinating character.

Sophia and Luke, the younger couple, were okay. They were everything they were supposed to be – young, dramatic, and in love – but I couldn’t make a connection with either one of them. In Sophia, I saw shades of Katie from Safe Haven and Luke was the generic nice cowboy in love with the sorority girl. The younger couple never quite got the same depth of character that Ruth and Ira did; instead, they were flat, never coming alive from the page.

THE PLOT

Unfortunately, the plot fell into the same problem as Luke and Sophia. It felt familiar and old instead of warm and welcoming. I don’t mind the cookie-cutter plot; I’m actually a bit of a fan of it when the basic plot outline is taken and formed each time into something just a little different. The Longest Ride was predictable in the worst way and I felt…bored while reading. I began to restart the book, hoping that some spark of the author’s older books would catch my eye and make me fall in love with the characters. 

The romance was okay. Predictable, but okay. I didn’t have that heart-pounding, sweaty palms, NEED to finish this book like with The Notebook or Safe Haven. The plot felt all too familiar to me for me to become truly engaged.There was nothing unique, different, engaging about their characters or their story – a major disappointment. 

THE WRITING

Sparks’s writing was okay, a bit like the rest of the book. The magic that I usually love about his novels was gone, leaving an okay novel. I didn’t get any emotions from the characters’ point of view, with one glaring exception: Ira. Ira’s narration in the first bit of the book was the one and only highlight for me

FINAL THOUGHTS

Maybe I went in with too high of expectations. Maybe I’m over the Nicholas Sparks craze (I hope not – I’ve loved his other work). In any case, The Longest Ride was a disappointment for me because of the flat characters and all-too-familiar plot.

Posted February 20, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
Tags: , , , ,


December 23, 2013

Review: One Tiny Lie by K.A. Tucker

Title: One Tiny Lie 
Author: K.A. Tucker {website
Publication Date: June 2013
Publisher: Atria Books
Series: Ten Tiny Breaths {Book 2}
Source & Format: Netgalley; ebook
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Livie has always been the stable one of the two Cleary sisters, handling her parents’ tragic death and Kacey’s self-destructive phase with strength and maturity. But underneath that exterior is a little girl hanging onto the last words her father ever spoke to her. “Make me proud,” he had said. She promised she would…and she’s done her best over the past seven years with every choice, with every word, with every action.

Livie walks into Princeton with a solid plan, and she’s dead set on delivering on it: Rock her classes, set herself up for medical school, and meet a good, respectable guy that she’s going to someday marry. What isn’t part of her plan are Jell-O shots, a lovable, party animal roommate she can’t say ‘no’ to, and Ashton, the gorgeous captain of the men’s rowing team. Definitely him. He’s an arrogant ass who makes Livie’s usually non-existent temper flare and everything she doesn’t want in a guy. Worse, he’s best friends and roommates with Connor, who happens to fits Livie’s criteria perfectly. So why does she keep thinking about Ashton?

As Livie finds herself facing mediocre grades, career aspirations she no longer thinks she can handle, and feelings for Ashton that she shouldn’t have, she’s forced to let go of her last promise to her father and, with it, the only identity that she knows.


I received a copy of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

There’s something about K.A. Tucker’s world that makes me ridiculously excited to dive back in. I found One Tiny Lie on Netgalley a few weeks ago, and it was impossible to keep myself from skipping ahead of my schedule to it. In her first novel of the series, Ten Tiny Breaths, we meet Kacey and her sister, Livie, two girls orphaned at a early age and forced to live with a overly Christian aunt and a perverted uncle. When Kacey and Livie make their escape, Ten Tiny Breaths begins (my review here.) Livie’s story, One Tiny Lie, lives up to the extraordinary standards set by the first novel. 

THE CHARACTERS

In Ten Tiny Breaths, Livie is the stable one, the rock, and Kacey’s consistent strength. I had already admired her in the beginning, so it was easy to fall in love with her character a second time around. 

Livie’s struggle to live up to expectations – hers and others – weighs on her, even though she doesn’t discover this struggle for a while. She sees herself as the responsible one, the one who has to uphold their dad’s dream of his girls attending his alma mater, Princeton, and the one who has to graduate medical school. All of her intentions are well-meant, but Livie has never considered doing exactly what she wants. She’s used to people outside of her family (her sister, their friend Storm, Storm’s daughter) telling her that everything will be fine instead of truly listening to her. When Ashton steals her Jell-O shot (possibly my favorite scene in the book), he changes that all for her. 

Ashton and Livie are magnetic. Even though neither of them want to admit it, they fit. Ashton’s bad boy charm hides something that Livie wants to heal for him, fitting back into her role as the responsible one (like she does with Kacey in the first book). Ashton, in turn, is the one to listen, to take on the role of cracking Livie’s expectations so she can find out who she truly is.

THE PLOT

Typically through college, young adults search for their identities and who they want to be in the future. Livie has always wanted to be a Princeton graduate and an oncologist. Most of us setting foot on the campuses around the globe don’t have a huge idea of what we want to do. I loved that Livie had her life mapped out and Tucker took that plan and tossed it in the air. I loved the plot; I loved that once Livie achieves her first goal of attending Princeton, the rest of her goals open up for her to decide what she wants to do. Tucker forces Livie to finally live outside her box, to make a decision for herself

THE WRITING

If I hadn’t had to go to work, I would have finished this book in one sitting. Tucker’s smooth delivery and dialogue make One Tiny Lie a sinking into Livie’s world instead of reading her story. I loved the narration, the strong characters, the plot. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

This book is definitely a keeper for me. I’m hooked. Livie’s story lives up to the expectations – and goes beyond – of what I expected from Ten Tiny Breaths. Definitely recommended!

Posted December 23, 2013 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
Tags: , , , , ,