Tag: Four Stars

January 11, 2018

Book Talk | Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

Book Talk | Song of the Current by Sarah TolcserSong of the Current by Sarah Tolcser
Series: Song of the Current #1
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, June 2017
Pages: 373
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Caroline Oresteia is destined for the river. For generations, her family has been called by the river god, who has guided their wherries on countless voyages throughout the Riverlands. At seventeen, Caro has spent years listening to the water, ready to meet her fate. But the river god hasn’t spoken her name yet—and if he hasn’t by now, there’s a chance he never will.

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

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

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

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

Nothing!

Review Snapshot:

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Perfect for:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Perfect for

True crime fans, mystery and thriller lovers

4 Stars

Posted January 10, 2018 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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January 3, 2018

Book Talk | An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

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

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

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

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

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Recommended for:

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

 

4 Stars

Posted January 3, 2018 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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November 22, 2017

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

Review | A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka by Lev GolinkinA Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka: A Memoir by Lev Golinkin
Publisher: Doubleday, November 2014
Pages: 307
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A compelling story of two intertwined journeys: a Jewish refugee family fleeing persecution and a young man seeking to reclaim a shattered past. In the twilight of the Cold War (the late 1980s), nine-year old Lev Golinkin and his family cross the Soviet border with only ten suitcases, $600, and the vague promise of help awaiting in Vienna. Years later, Lev, now an American adult, sets out to retrace his family's long trek, locate the strangers who fought for his freedom, and in the process, gain a future by understanding his past.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Stars

Posted November 22, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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November 20, 2017

Review | The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

Review | The Duchess Deal by Tessa DareThe Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare
Series: Girl Meets Duke, #1
Publisher: Avon, August 2017
Pages: 370
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When girl meets Duke, their marriage breaks all the rules…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Stars

Posted November 20, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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November 16, 2017

Review | The Widow by Fiona Barton

Review | The Widow by Fiona BartonThe Widow by Fiona Barton
Publisher: NAL, February 16th 2016
Pages: 324
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When the police started asking questions, Jean Taylor turned into a different woman. One who enabled her and her husband to carry on, when more bad things began to happen...
But that woman’s husband died last week. And Jean doesn’t have to be her anymore.
There’s a lot Jean hasn’t said over the years about the crime her husband was suspected of committing. She was too busy being the perfect wife, standing by her man while living with the accusing glares and the anonymous harassment.
Now there’s no reason to stay quiet. There are people who want to hear her story. They want to know what it was like living with that man. She can tell them that there were secrets. There always are in a marriage.
The truth—that’s all anyone wants. But the one lesson Jean has learned in the last few years is that she can make people believe anything…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted November 16, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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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 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 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 2, 2017

Review | Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Ann Fowler

Review | Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Ann FowlerZ: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, March 2013
Pages: 375
Format: Hardcover
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When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the "ungettable" Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn't wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner's, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick's Cathedral and take the rest as it comes.

What comes, here at the dawn of the Jazz Age, is unimagined attention and success and celebrity that will make Scott and Zelda legends in their own time. Everyone wants to meet the dashing young author of the scandalous novel—and his witty, perhaps even more scandalous wife. Zelda bobs her hair, adopts daring new fashions, and revels in this wild new world. Each place they go becomes a playground: New York City, Long Island, Hollywood, Paris, and the French Riviera—where they join the endless party of the glamorous, sometimes doomed Lost Generation that includes Ernest Hemingway, Sara and Gerald Murphy, and Gertrude Stein.

Everything seems new and possible. Troubles, at first, seem to fade like morning mist. But not even Jay Gatsby's parties go on forever. Who is Zelda, other than the wife of a famous—sometimes infamous—husband? How can she forge her own identity while fighting her demons and Scott's, too? With brilliant insight and imagination, Therese Anne Fowler brings us Zelda's irresistible story as she herself might have told it.

Out of the many famous literary wives scattered across history, Zelda Fitzgerald stands alone. An author, painter and creator in her own right, she has captured emotions across the decades: fascination, admiration, dislike, even pity. Yet even with a reputation like that, she is still so often overpowered by her famous husband.

I learned about F. Scott Fitzgerald in high school and, as any college student can tell you, had The Great Gatsby burned into my brain (luckily, I learned to love it, but that’s a different post). But I can’t remember a single teacher of mine mentioning Zelda.

Fowler’s Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald brings Zelda alive in the best way. She was funny, vibrant, slightly narcissistic, and oh-so-young. The last trait is the most memorable: when the

The last feature is the most memorable. When the novel begins, she’s a silly young debutante, the flower of her father’s eye and the cause of a twitch in her mother’s. It’s natural to act young, simply because she is. But as the story progresses and Zelda evolves, that same characteristic sticks to her like glue. For better or for worse, Zelda would be young at heart.

It’s a mixed blessing: her constant naivete allows her to see the bright side of things, to hope, but it also damns her, in a way only the reader can see.

Her relationship with F. Scott was nothing like the fairy tale I (or Zelda) expected. Two peas in a pod, of the same mind, cut from the same cloth – whatever metaphor works for you. The same attraction that drew them together was doomed to rip apart and reunite them throughout their lives. It was predictable, yet poignant.

That’s not to say there weren’t times I yelled at the words on the page, urging her to get the hell out of there, to not put up with his bull any longer. I begged her to not listen to his sweet promises or to come to her senses when another was broken. It was one of the most addicting dysfunctional relationships I’ve read in a long time.

In the end, Zelda was me, and I was her. I was with her in the last scene, through the epilogue. This naive young girl who never quite grew up changed my perspective, thanks to Fowler’s unique, enchanting storytelling.

4 Stars

Posted October 2, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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